I’m a rather eccentric journal keeper (as was Mr. Wesley, by the way!). I jot down daily notes into a cheap OfficeMax notebook, recording observations, experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Each New Year I choose a few things in particular to count and track, and I keep up with these in lists at the back of the journal. Sometimes the numbers are revealing and scary, and other times they are humorous and playful.
For instance, during the twelve months of 2008, I slept away from home for 153 nights, up from 123 in 2007. (Most of those were nights in Missouri related to preaching, teaching, and meetings. Sixteen were fun/family/personal travel. Much of the increase had to do with General and Jurisdictional Conferences). During the same period, I preached, taught, or presented prepared talks before congregations, meetings, conferences, or audiences on 160 occasions, up from 153 the year before. I boarded 57 flights in 2008, up from 36 in 2007, and I drove about 28,000 miles for my work in 2008. I landed at five U.S. airports I’d never before been to, and for the first calendar year since I was an infant, I never once stepped foot in a foreign country. (Remember that for 43 of my 51 years, I’ve lived within eight miles of Mexico.) And in 2008, I found $7.66 in change on sidewalks, roadways, and walking paths.
Also, during 2008 I ran or walked 1132 miles for exercise, down from 1514 in 2007. I read 14 fewer books in 2008 than the year before. I gained 13 pounds over the course of twelve months, ending at a lifetime high of 216. (Not good!) The number of U.S. bird species I identified and recorded fell from 382 in 2007 to 253 in 2008!
If you took these numbers and projected them forward for years to come at the same rate, then I will stop seeing any birds at all in two more years; I will read no books in 2012 and thereafter; I will stop walking and running altogether in four more years, and I’ll retire weighing 478 pounds! Not a pretty picture.
Taking the two paragraphs above, you can see that an increase in meetings, travel, and work has brought with it a decline in exercise, physical health, and fun stuff. (Or was it the decline in the second that caused the increase in the first?)
Something’s got to change. One of the reasons I pay attention to the numbers is to notice the trends and redress the imbalances.
We all wish we could live a totally balanced life – the perfect mix of family, personal, work, play, spiritual sustenance, reading, productivity, and health. If we could just get it right, then everything would work out well and we’d live happily and fruitfully without much effort. This time of year, magazines headline various formulas for getting it all right, and yet we don’t find many people who have figured it out perfectly, do we?
Rather than having a totally balanced life, the best we can do is commit ourselves to the hard work of balancing, of constantly noticing and adjusting to keep from leaning too far one way or the other and falling into disaster.
The phrase “the balancing act” is a metaphor derived from the actual circus performances of days gone by. Remember the tightrope walker? She steps out onto a wire line stretched tightly high above the ground between two tall posts while carrying a long horizontal pole. Inch by inch the tightrope artist moves across the wire, sometimes slowly and dramatically, and other times with the hurried dance-like pace of a gymnast. Sometimes she simply stands still. But whether she dances, walks, or stands still, there’s always a constant perceptible motion of teetering slightly this way and that. These movements represent the inevitable pull of gravity to one side and then the other, and of her constantly offsetting these forces with tiny corrections and adjustments. The long horizontal balancing pole totters slightly, rising a little on one side while falling a little on the other, and it does so from the first step until last. In short, the tightrope walker with her excellent sense of balance is never completely balanced; she is always balancing.
It’s taken a while for me to abandon the notion of a balanced life and to embrace the idea of balancing life. This difference may seem subtle, but is really quite significant. We’re never the perfect weight, we never find the perfect mix of work and play, and we never manage to feed all our physical, emotional, and spiritual hungers with the exact portions necessary while also sustaining those around us and meeting all our professional and community obligations. We never can calculate out the exact amount of time each of our children or family members will need from us, or us from them, and we can never anticipate the interruptions, opportunities, graces and griefs that mark our journey. We never find the ideal pattern that needs no reconsideration, recalibration, or rebalancing. Life is constant movement, forward stepping, sidetracking, detouring, self-correcting, getting a little lost, and finding our way back with the help of friends.
Jesus’ teachings are full of action words and heavy-loaded with imperatives. “Go…Teach….Heal….Baptize….Take up….Arise…Give…Tell…” His practice of ministry also included rich times of personal prayer, extended rest, time away, dinners with friends, fishing trips, stopovers at water wells, time in the Temple, Sabbath. If Jesus’ life required constant balancing, what makes us think we can work ours out with complete and un-improvable success?
What helps you with the balancing act of your life? What brings you back to yourself and restores a sense of proper proportion? Who’s the most helpful friend or confidant in helping you see what’s lopsided and out of balance? What’s the role of rest, devotion, friendship, and family in adjusting and readjusting your life? Will you and I notice more birds this year, or fewer, than we did in 2008?
Yours in Christ,