the myth of balance

I’ve found myself thinking about balance a lot lately.  What it is, how to achieve it, and why I should want to achieve it.  Among women, and mothers in particular, balance is a sort of holy grail.  Just read any interview of any successful woman, basically ever, and you’ll see the following question, “How do you do it all? How do you achieve (dun dun dun…) balance?” Normally, the answer will be some kind of vague murmuring about making the time for things that are important to you and letting go of the rest (as if laundry can be let go forever), or maybe something about self-care (which usually means going to get a pedicure once a month or something). But there’s a big problem, for me, when it comes to balance. Namely, that’s it unachievable.

Listen, if someone tells you to stand on one foot, those who are coordinated can do it for a while.  Those who are coordinated and in great physical shape can do it for longer.  Someone who is coordinated, in great shape, and practices meditation could do it for a pretty long time. But not forever.  No one, no matter how organized or spiritual or manicured they are, can stay balanced.  It’s not possible.  Something’s always going to come along like a strong gust of wind and knock you off-kilter. That’s just life. Balance that lasts is a myth.

So what’s the alternative?  Weeble-wobbling around the world like a sugar-high toddler, alternating between giggle-fit highs and sobbing, tantrum-inducing lows?  Well, I’ve been there, and it’s not so great.  No, I think that the alternative to buying into the idea of being perfectly balanced is attempting to become centered.

Think about it. Balance suggests that I move to accommodate the forces all around me, pulling me this way and that.  It suggests that the same amount of play and work, when placed on each of my shoulders, will keep me more or less with both feet on the ground.  But being centered?  Being strong at my core?  That means that when one burden becomes heavier (even dramatically, frightfully so), I won’t topple.

To put it another way: when people discuss balance, they almost always talk about how a person spends their time.  Balancing work life with family life.  Balancing service to others with care for oneself.  In theory, finding the magic formula in which I can spend just the right amount of time for each of these things would be fantastic.  But it holds a pretty serious problem for those of us who are trying to follow Jesus- he doesn’t always call us to balance.  Sometimes he needs us to spend almost all of our time caring for our special-needs child.  Sometimes he calls us to die to self a little bit (ok a lot) and put our spouses needs before our own.  Sometimes he’s going to need us to pour ourselves into our work, even to the temporary detriment of family time.  Haven’t I seen this to be true over and over again in my life?  And then when I look to “balance” as the ideal, I often feel like a big. fat. failure.

But being centered is different.  It’s not about how I spend my time, for the most part.  It’s about where my soul finds rest in all the things I do.  When I am centered, all of the things I do in my day matter a whole lot less than who I am in God. It’s about finding my worldview, really giving thought to why I’m here, why my life matters, and who I’m accountable to.  That is my center.  I need to challenge myself in this- ask the tough why’s and how’s of what I believe.  It’s hard soul work, but when I start coming out on the other side of those questions with a new understanding of myself and my God, that is where I’ll find my center.  In this scenario, self-care isn’t so much about spending time doing refreshing things to balance out the hard work of life, but more about caring for my real self, spending more time in soul-quiet so that God can tell me about what he wants for me and help me to form a heart for living centered in Him.

And here is what I’ve found: Once you’ve found your center, you’ll find it surprisingly easy to let that inform everything you do.  You’ll be able to make decisions about how you spend your time based on meaningful beliefs, instead of just doing a certain amount of each thing to attempt to even out the scale or make it look good on the outside. Because the truth is that once you find center, questions of balance become, if not obsolete, at least less pressing.  Not only will finding your center help you to balance your priorities naturally, without thinking so much about it, but it will also motivate you to do the things that you are called to do.  So often I am distracted and pulled in different directions that I worry that my true calling might go unnoticed because I’m not paying attention.  If I’m acting from a placed of centered-ness, I don’t have to worry about that as much.

Balance suggests that if the externals of my life are in the right proportion, I’ll have peace on the inside.  But I’m guessing that we all know that that doesn’t pan out for most people.  Peace starts in our deepest center and radiates out.  When we ground that center in something bigger than ourselves, that’s when we’ll be able to let go of the burden of balance and stand firm amidst the challenges and joys of a decidedly un-balanced life.

4 thoughts on “the myth of balance

  1. “But it holds a pretty serious problem for those of us who are trying to follow Jesus- he doesn’t always call us to balance. Sometimes he needs us to spend almost all of our time caring for our special-needs child. Sometimes he calls us to die to self a little bit (ok a lot) and put our spouses needs before our own.”

    Wow. Yes. You’ve given me a lot to think about. You’re right about this mysterious holy grail of balance– and the feeling of failure at never achieving it. “Centered.” That’s a much better goal. Thanks for sharing. <3

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