I hate the word balance—at least the way our modern culture defines it.
For most of my adult life, all I’ve heard (or read) is about how to balance work and family life or finding balance when life seems to get out of control. It’s as if balance is this magical word that creates a utopian mindset—one that, I’ve come to realize, doesn’t exist.
The truth is balance—or harmony, homeostasis, whatever you want to define it—is just a fancy way of deluding ourselves that the myth “You can have it all” is actually achievable. Balance implies that something in our lives is already off-kilter; otherwise, we wouldn’t need those self-help articles offering tips on how we can come back to a place of peace in our daily living. Why don’t we start looking for ways to declutter our minds and our homes instead of chasing that ever-elusive and abstract concept of balance?
Before I had children, my life was neat and tidy, fitting well into the little box I set aside for it. It was full of fulfilled expectations and realized dreams. But, of course, once my husband and I welcomed our girls into our organized and well-kept life, everything changed.
I no longer knew what balance meant anymore.
In fact, I tried—oh, I desperately tried—to stuff the messes and chaos back into my safe and familiar proverbial box, but nothing fit anymore. All order became upheaval, and I knew it was a fruitless attempt to force something I wanted into what no longer worked. In other words, balance became no sleep, eating at odd times (and often eating strange foods), no free time, and constantly cleaning up messes.
I recall holding my then-newborn daughter, Felicity, during Advent about six years ago. My mom and I were visiting, and tears welled in my eyes as I sheepishly confessed to her, “I haven’t done anything for Advent this year, Mom.” In her wisdom, she smiled and simply replied, “Sweetheart, you are now living your Advent. You don’t have to do, but be.” It all made sense after that.
Now that my girls are approaching six and four, I know that real life is messy—and that’s okay. Sometimes—oftentimes—God works in our messes, so that we humbly approach Him with what little we have to offer at the end of the day. Our emptiness, our littleness, keeps us dependent on the One who has it all under control.
Instead of seeking balance, we should strive for holiness. And holiness doesn’t operate in predictable, smooth ways. For many well-known saints, holiness meant weathering intense trials, obstacles, and temptations. It meant going without and depriving the senses, so that others could be clothed and fed. It meant quietly and patiently putting up with insults and ridicule. It meant facing the unpredictable, because that’s how the Holy Spirit works.
If we all lived a balanced life, how would we stay awake to know when the Holy Spirit is moving in us? That vigilance, that expectant faith, would vanish, because we would become complacent and comfortable with the status quo. We must learn to live in the midst of mystery, which is often filled with more questions than answers. It’s in the mystery and the mess that we discover how strong—or weak—our faith truly is. And the questions that remain unanswered allow us to foster deeper trust in God’s loving providence for our lives.
So let us refrain from the desire to achieve balance and instead thank God for the gift of smudges and wet feet, mud and dirt, sticky hands and barking dogs. Let us relish the moment we have been given, here and now, so that nothing is taken for granted.
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Text Copyright 2016 Jeannie Ewing, all rights reserved.