There’s no such thing as balance. Honestly. There isn’t.
What do we usually mean by balance? What picture pops to mind? The scale, settled on its fulcrum, equal weights on either side. Well, that picture doesn’t work in real life. First, there’s not a day in any human’s life when there are ONLY two things. We have kids and work and family and personal care, and spiritual health and worship and service and vocation and hobbies and … AND, even with the imaginary two things, there’s no moment in time when things get equal effort.
The idea of being balanced seems to imply that we know what’s on our plate and we then allocate appropriate time to each thing, perhaps in a way that reflects our priorities. Although we acknowledge family as more important to us than our jobs, we spend more time at work than with our families. And with God at the top of our priority list, time in spiritual practices can fall a poor third to work and family time. Are we out of balance?
Things come up
I think the idea of priorities takes us down the right road. I know you have had that moment, a call from a loved one, when you dropped everything and went over, to spend time with them, to serve and to help. Were you out of balance then? Or what about when your kid doesn’t sleep the night and you don’t sleep to care for him, but then you don’t go to work because the combination of his needs and your exhaustion means you might be dangerous or unkind to other humans? Are you out of balance then? I don’t think so. I think you made a choice about what your priority was in the moment.
As a mom of a child with special needs, I’ve noticed that it’s hard to know ahead of time all the things that I’ll deal with on a given day. Who knows which combination of a school plumbing emergency (no school), a stomach virus (no sleep), a winter storm (no heat or power) or a panic attack (no peace) will come my way? If I don’t know what’s coming, how can I plan in a way that establishes balance?
A time for everything
With the massive unknown created by competing roles and unexpected events, I’ve decided that balance is a myth. Another strategy is needed to maintain peace and sanity. It’s called ‘figuring out what’s needed right now.’ It probably sounds better if I say, ‘know your priorities.’ I know we all know our general priorities of God, family, and so on. But in every given moment, there are at least five things calling for our attention and only one thing that needs to be done. The trick is knowing what that one thing is.
Ecclesiates 3 is often quoted on this matter, and it’s true! There is a time for everything. That’s such a relief! That means if I don’t have time for something, then the “it” isn’t actually a thing that I need to be doing. But how do we determine what should be done in each moment? Here are four steps to help you figure this out.
1. Choose the easy way.
I live by the mantra if it’s worth doing, its worth doing the hard way. As a type-A-get-things-done person, I’m pretty competent at most things and I can be caught doing many, many, many things that I just don’t have to do. I don’t have to create the cute wall art myself, I can buy one. I don’t have to pick the kids up, I can let them take the train. Some of the items competing for our attention can be delegated to others or just done the easy way.
How do you want to spend your time and energies? What do you really want to be doing? Sometimes we are caught doing tasks that others ask us to do, even though they don’t sit in our sweet spot. This is often the case with ministry and service opportunities. Make a list of how you really want to spend your time and energy. Especially note the priorities that you think take more time or energy than they should, and the others that are not getting enough attention. These two lists are prayer prompts, opportunities to discuss your time and energy utilization with the One who makes all time and energy.
Figure out some general time blocks that you want to use for the items on your list. I like to create an ideal week, with buckets for learning, work with clients, self-care, worship, etc. The Maker of time and energy will lead you into a sense of the rhythm for your week and month. As you get a sense of this rhythm, make sure you create generous time boundaries for things like travel and other transitions. For example, I realized that I can spend several hours in activity with my kids or with clients, but the moment I am by myself, I need at least thirty minutes of recovery time before I can move to the next activity. That thirty minute boundary of reading, listening to music or browsing social media needs to be part of my transition time. Notice your typical trends, own them and honor the time you need by planning for your transitions. That way, they don’t sneak up and hijack your schedule.
4. See Clearly.
Even though we plan, stuff happens. Most of the stuff that interferes with our schedule is outside our control, and can create anxiety for us. My husband Isaiah is a worship leader and is responsible for our church’s worship team. Sometimes, team members get sick or are otherwise unable to participate. At a moment’s notice, he can be thrown off schedule. This kind of unexpected thing happens all the time, things that require his response. For Isaiah, and for all of us, knowing when to say yes and when to say no is an act of discernment.
It’s difficult to separate the competing voices and demands when we are anxious and unsettled. The scriptures are right: peace guards our hearts, the place where discernment and intuition reside. It’s often impossible to be clear about what to do without this peace, this knowing and intution you sometimes can’t explain.
The Bottom Line
So in those moments, when my priorities cannot be determined without my ability to see everything clearly, and that clarity is difficult without peace, then peace is the only priority. This is a tough lesson to grasp, and even tougher to master. The truth is that we don’t effectively align with our priorities and know how to respond to the situations that face us if we aren’t anchored deep down, knowing that we are safe and capable and have access to all the resources we need. A wise friend calls this the ‘non-anxious presence.’ When I allow myself to be present in a non-anxious way, regardless of what’s going on around me, I can see the situations so much clearer, hear the priorities of my heart loudly, and can discern the promptings of the Spirit.
Even though there is no such thing as balance, there is such a thing as balancing, so that we can honor the fact that there is a time for everything. Balancing requires us to work smart, understand and create time for our priorities, and practice peace. If we do these things, we can respond to the daily upheavals with grace, clearly see our current situation, recognize our priorities and respond appropriately to the invitation of the Spirit.
This balancing won’t look the same from day to day, and thank God for that! Life is dynamic. There are no formulas. Only the knowledge that we have access to the One who loves us fully, knows us completely and will guide our moments to create more of His Kingdom on earth gives us balance. Here’s to balancing well for the rest of 2019!
Faith is an author, performance consultant and productivity specialist for special needs moms. She helps special needs families create businesses they love that make sense in the crazy rhythm of their parenting journey. Her book, Parenting Like a Ninja - an autism mom's guide to professional productivity shares her journey from overwhelm and burnout to calm, productive energy. Get a free copy at ParentingLikeaNinja.com.