Someone recently showed me an article entitled, "The Myth of the Balanced Life" (by Jack Fortin, in The Lutheran, January 2007). The author writes eloquently about how we are overwhelmed by the fragmented complexity of our lives. He believes that a balanced life is unattainable. He believes that the desire for it is an anxiety-based impulse to control what is ultimately not really ours to control. He argues on behalf of a faith-filled life as the appropriate response. We must have the humility to accept that we are never going to feel fully on top of things, and we must learn to forgive ourselves for this, and strive instead to do our best to live in faithfulness.
But what does this really mean? How exactly do we do this?
What I realize in my own life is that I can fall into moods in which I start to think that I can only have peace if I do X, Y, and Z. (Sadly, X and Y are usually some immediate tasks that I'm rather afraid of, and Z usually is "and everything else on my To Do list!") For me, then, the notion of a balanced life is conditioned upon finally feeling on top of everything. And, surprise, surprise, I never get there!
So the key is to reconceptualize the notion of a balanced life. Instead of making it conditioned upon getting the externals of your life right, it is better to define it as an inner state that is not dependent on the externals being right.
When I do have my moments of transcendent peace and clarity, it is not because I am all caught up and all of my problems are resolved and nothing frightening looms. These moments happen in spite of the continuing unresolved messiness of my life.
In fact, when I am feeling most daunted by all that I have to do, it is usually best not to plunge right into getting things done in the hope that "catching up" will restore peace and confidence. It is better to try to regain the state of transcendent peace and clarity, because then from that state it is easier to face what needs to be done. Not only is it easier to face things, but I feel more capable of handling the challenging tasks well.
With this as the kind of balanced life I really seek, I do not think that it is a myth after all. But I still agree with Fortin that too often our concept of the balanced life is an anxiety-based desire for control, and achieving this kind of control is not really possible. I agree that a huge part of finding the different sense of balance that comes from a life of faithfulness requires a great deal of letting go of ways we want to control what goes on around us.
But how do we find this state of consciousness?
This is what spiritual disciplines are for. They help bring us back to this state of being, largely by reminding us of what is important.
For me, I am finding that what I need is a certain sense of who I am and what my life is all about. While this sounds self-centered instead of God-centered, it isn't really, because by "finding who I truly am," I look to regain a sense of myself as a child of God, instead of an ego-driven sense of self. And by looking for the "true meaning of my life," I try to regain the spiritual sense of my life's meaning, instead of getting distracted by how others might judge the "success" of my life at the moment.
When I am in this good place of peace and clarity, I don't even think of myself because I am living from my true center. And from this place, I am outwardly focused, viewing the world with compassion.
But when I am in a state of anxiety, I am very distracted by myself (my own imperfections), and the world outside me distorts so that those features which are anxiety-provoking are exaggerated, and the rest mostly fades away.
This image that is clarifying for me today of conquering the anxiety before resuming work seems to me to be an important spiritual discipline unto itself.
I can hear the objection (from myself in some future anxious state?): "But I don't have time to figure out how to get back to a centered state of being! This has to get done now!"
Reply: Trying to get something important done from within a state of anxiety probably takes twice as long as it would to take a little time out to re-center and then do the task with the greater efficiency that peace and clarity bring.
5 years ago