Think back to elementary or middle school. Do you remember the first time you asked someone if he or she liked you? You probably played out the scenario over and over again in your mind. You may have role-played it in your bathroom mirror. Whether it was over the phone or a face-to-face conversation, you had a plan.

Recently, my kids came across my old middle school yearbooks. They started asking all kinds of questions, mostly about hairstyles and fashion trends, but at some point, it drifted. My oldest son, Micah, was curious about something a girl had written in the back of the book. She was an old girlfriend. My kids wanted to know how long we dated and how I first asked her out. I explained how easy it had been. I handed her a note that said, “Do you like me? Check yes or no.” They all laughed at the absurdity.

Defensively, I snipped back, “Well, what’s your plan?” Micah replied, “Oh, I just ask to borrow their phone for a minute and text myself. Now, I have their number. A little later I just start texting with them.” He spoke like it was the most obvious solution. Honestly, I was half-disturbed and half-proud. At least he had a plan, and admittedly it was better than my ‘yes or no’ note.

There’s a reason why every bookstore has an entire section devoted to parenting. Raising respectful, independent kids that love Jesus is hard. For most of us, the seasons of doubt far outweigh the moments of certainty. We all know we need a plan. We pray for insight, dream of the kind of parent we want to be, and wish to do more, be better, but without strategic change our best effort will never be good enough.

With four kids, two jobs, five sports, church commitments, school events, traveling responsibilities and writing deadlines, my wife and I have discovered that having no plan is actually a plan in and of itself to fail miserably. It wasn’t too long ago when I realized I hadn’t actually spent quality time with my family in days, possibly weeks. My relationship with my wife was suffering, and I felt I was drowning, not only in responsibility but guilt as well.

Life can be demanding and unpredictable, but with a strategic plan you can turn the burdens of a busy schedule into unique opportunities to connect with those you love.

Just because our lives are filled with the unexpected doesn’t mean we have to be surprised. It has always intrigued me how many people continue to be caught off-guard by the inevitable.

Every Christmas, our family likes to watch Elf. There is a scene where over-sized elf Will Ferrell is assigned the horrible task of checking to make sure each jack-in-the-box is working properly. He turns the crank and the clown pops out. He is startled every time it happens. It’s a funny moment in the movie. What’s not so funny is that many of us are living our lives turning the crank but not prepared for what’s next.

Exceptions can become incredible opportunities when you pause long enough to come up with a Plan B.

Over the years, I had the incredible privilege of interviewing people looking to join the staff at our church. This required my wife and I to go to dinner with prospective couples. Great for the interview process, but it was challenging to tie up another night away from the kids. During a particular season, things got crazy when the church started growing fast and there were many candidates to meet. This required flexibility and therefore led to a multitude of unplanned exceptions.

I was trying to be deliberate about spending quality time with my kids and limit my nights away from family to no more than three nights a week—even putting those days on the calendar (no room for surprises). But this season of exceptions required a fourth, or maybe even fifth, night away from home.

I found that when I would call home to tell my kids that I wouldn’t be home because I had an interview, it would be met with massive disappointment but then a sweet little smile saying, “We love you daddy. It’s okay. I was just really hoping we could play a board game tonight.

We needed a plan. The interviews weren’t going to stop. And my kids weren’t going anywhere.

So, we made a shift. When I had an opportunity to do another interview, I would call home to say we have an interview (same as before), but instead of this meaning Mom and Dad wouldn’t be home, it meant an adventure for the kids. We created a new “When This, Then That” solution. WHEN we have an interview, THEN the kids get to eat at the restaurant (at a separate table) with an appetizer and dessert.

Instead of sadness, our phone calls were met with jubilee.

You can see how we were able to turn something that used to be a negative, another ‘I’m sorry’ into something that our whole family gets excited about. In fact, sometimes my kids ask when the next interview is so they can dine out “fancy” again.

I fully believe kids and family are supposed to enhance life. I also realize that supporting and caring for that family comes with some heavy demands. However, I’ve seen many examples of healthy families creating solutions instead of trying to achieve the impossible feat of balance. When guidelines are clear and solutions are created in advance, connecting with and providing for your family become one in the same.

I don’t want to imply that Jessica and I have it all figured out or that the solutions will always come easy. We are, however, trying to be strategic and honest about what it looks like for our careers, our pursuits, and our family to thrive.

Adapted from an except of The Myth of Balance, written by Frank Bealer to help church leaders balance ministry and family.

The Myth of Balance

Balance is a mythical beast.

We always say we need to achieve it for equilibrium in our work life or family time, but balance doesn’t really exist.

In The Myth of Balance, Frank Bealer explains how a simple four-word formula can prepare you for the unexpected and not-so-unexpected events that distract you at the most inconvenient moments. Next time, be ready to slay the beast of balance with this time-tested approach.