There may be no more grand ideal than that of balance. That there is a precarious moment in time where everything is as it should be, where you work precisely enough, play exactly hard enough, family (yeah, it’s a verb now) enough to the thousandth degree…and all is well. Balanced. Perfect. Life as it should be. This pursuit, conscious or not, is what drives many working folk crazy (doubly so if they happen to have children at home). How can we know if we have worked the right amount? Is it ok to stay 5min late to answer an email? What if that email turns into a crucial conversation? If I stay, I let my family down. If I leave, I let my job down, and my own sense of duty to do my job well.
What is balance, and why is it so illusive?
I’m no expert on this. I took two months off last year to reset my life from a period of major burnout. I was a wreck. I was working 2-3 jobs, in a Master’s degree program, had 2 kids under 6, a working wife, and no desire to do anything. My heart was broken. Not in the romantic sense of disappointment, but it was not functioning. Not engaged. Things that should and used to excite me filled me with nothing, which then filled me with resentment. I was broken. It took a professional looking at my life, seeing what I didn’t want to see, for me to realize that my life was “unbalanced.”
But what is balance?
The ancient Israelites in the Bible had a concept that is deeply tied to their identity and trust in Yahweh, their God: Shalom. Shalom is usually translated “peace” in English, but that is an anemic translation. When I hear “peace,” I usually think the absence of conflict. But shalom is so much more than that. Shalom is the ideal state where everything is as it should be.
But what is balance?
The more I have pursued a sense of balance in my life, the more I realize I’m really bad at it. The things I want to do, the things I feel like I should do, and the things I actually have to do all fight in my head and there is never a clear winner. Usually I get tired of the fight and scroll through Facebook or watch YouTube videos on how to play slap bass or turn a bowl on a lathe (I’m not a bass player, and I don’t own a lathe).
So I know that my job pays me for a certain amount of my time. Working at a church, that amount is somewhat nebulous, as ministry is really an on-call vocation where I need to be available to be there for anyone at any time. Nevertheless, the time expected of me to work is similar to other full time jobs, I just don’t get to “clock out” in the same way. So that takes care of work.
I have a problem switching my brain off. One of the challenges of doing a job you love and are passionate about is that I think about it all the time, even when not “working.” It’s totally because my job is awesome and I love it! So I daydream about upgrades to the sanctuary, events to plan with my team, how I can be a better guitar player/singer/leader/tech guru/faith haver, whatever. But I find myself doing this when I’m home. Playing with my kids. Making dinner with my wife. During my own personal prayer and devotion time. Is that balance?
Look, I have clearly discredited myself as a source of practical knowledge in this area, but I have given a lot of thought to this, even if my actions haven’t caught up with my brain.
What is balance?
There is no clear answer.
That’s what I have learned. It is totally subjective, and depends on you, your personality, your temperament, your family situation, and the season you are in. For me, balance looks very different around Christmas and Easter than it does in the middle of summer. It’s part of life to have ebbs and flows of the demand for your time and energy.
What I have found to be helpful is simple but difficult: ask others to weigh in. Ask those closest to you to keep you accountable. They will see and feel your time demands differently than you, and will have a perspective that isn’t skewed by your own sense of duty. Where I struggle the most is the self-imposed pressure to perform at a certain level in my job, which consumes my thoughts when I should be free to be free. My wife is good at calling that out in me. If she weren’t there I’d be quick to go back to my pattern of running myself into the ground.
In our current situation of quarantine and unknown, with many of us working from home, it’s a good time to reflect on balance in our own lives. Working from home, while initially exciting and liberating, can become a huge burden as we have no way of separating our work and home lives. What was once natural by getting in a car and physically distancing ourselves from our work is now reduced to walking into a different room, knowing that there is an email, a task, a person to respond to just feet away from where we are trying to rest and recharge.
What does balance look like while quarantined?
I can’t tell you, because I don’t know. I’m still figuring it out. It has been a hard thing, partly because my role has increased in our weekly services, becoming the editor/director/producer of online video services, which takes a lot of time. A lot. Of. Time. So what do I say to my kids who want to play with their dad? He’s right there, behind that door, in the room where we play hide and seek sometimes…why can’t he come out to play for 20 minutes? I put on headphones so I don’t hear the fights, but also so I can’t hear them having fun so I am tempted to run out and join. After all, I have work to do!
Maybe balance is a pipe dream, an unrealistic ideal. Let’s ask a different question: what is shalom?
What does peace look like? Real peace. Not just anti-conflict, but true wholeness?
What does it look like for you?