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He’s been gone for years

We talk about how important marriage and family is, but where are we directing our emotional energy each day?

He was a well-respected executive in his community. He had climbed the ladder of success and was reaping the rewards.

Except in his family.

He arrived home from work one day and shocked his wife by telling her he wanted a divorce so he could marry another woman. This couple had two sons in grade school, and the mother worried how they would react to the news. But when she told them that their father was leaving them, she was surprised by her oldest boy’s reply: “Mom, he’s been gone for years.”

Gone for years.

I think that’s one of the saddest quotes I’ve ever heard. It echoes through countless homes in America today, where a husband or wife, a dad or mom, may be physically present but emotionally absent. We talk about how important marriage and family is, but where are we directing our emotional energy each day?

I’ve been thinking about this lately because I’ve entered a season in my career where I have more to do than I can ever remember — more writing, more editing, more projects, more planning, more managing, more responsibility. I love all these opportunities that God has given me, but I’m also realizing how much of my emotional energy is used up during the work hours.

When I leave my home in the morning and begin driving to work, my mind shifts into a different mode of operation — like an idle computer that is suddenly activated. Throughout the day, my mind is racing as I move from one task to another. I’m meeting with people … doing research … planning future articles for the FamilyLife website … trying to put words together for a column like this. I often need exercise at lunch time just to keep my mind clear.

And when I return home each evening, what do I want? On most days I’ve used up so much emotional energy that all I care about is shutting down that computer in my mind. I want to lie on the couch and read magazines or books. I want to watch White Collar or Person of Interest on television, or relax with one of my favorite old movies on DVD. Let’s see … should I escape to the Old West and enjoy Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne squaring off with Lee Marvin in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” or should I watch Gene Kelly in “Singin’ in the Rain”?

There’s only one tiny problem with this scenario: Life doesn’t revolve around me. Philippians 2:3-8 calls me to put my wife’s needs above my own. When I use up too much emotional energy at work, and waste too much time with entertainment, other priorities are neglected.

My wife, Merry, would probably say I’m being too hard on myself. My daughters are grown now, but I’m confident they wouldn’t use words like, “He’s been gone for years” when they describe me as a father. But in my heart, I know how easy it is for me to detach emotionally for a few hours or even a few days.

Here are a couple of things I need to do:

  • Spend more time alone with God, talking with Him and reading His Word. I find when I am consistent in spending time with God, I have more emotional energy throughout the day.
  • Be more proactive in spending quality time with Merry. I need to talk with her more, and I need to get out and have fun with her more.

I wish I was writing with wisdom gained from years of doing it right. But I’m still in the battle, and I have a feeling many of you are as well.

Copyright © FamilyLife. All rights reserved. This post originally appeared in Marriage Memo.

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  1. William's Gravatar William
    March 5, 2014    

    What a great reminder for me personally. After reading this I realized that I had done this very thing last night. I checked out and looking back I know that I let my family down. With God’s help I will not do it tonight!

    • Scott Williams's Gravatar Scott Williams
      March 6, 2014    

      As I edited the article to post it, I was convicted, too, William. When I started to feel guilty, I was reminded that the Holy Spirit doesn’t condemn, but instead convinces us that what we’re settling for is far short of the great things God desires for us. As Paul reminds us, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Even if those desires are as benign as just a little down time.

  2. March 7, 2014    

    Great post. What a punch it would be to hear that quote from one of your children. I certainly don’t want to ever hear that from my kids. Getting higher up in my career has brought up some of these emotions and I have started thinking about them more often. I try to use my drive home as an “energy switch”. Whatever happened in my day needs to take a break and I need to focus on my wife and child. This post was a great reminder and one many men need to hear.

  1. He’s been gone for years - on March 6, 2014 at 12:33 am

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