Sunday, July 29, 2007

Living a Balanced Life?














I've just read an interesting article from Comment magazine entitled "Making the most of college: Business, balance and learning to live". In the article, David Bentall tells of making a commitment early in his life not to "sell out" in pursuit of a successful career.

As a young boy, not having his father attend his soccer games led Bentall to decide to "live a balanced life". He continues this pursuit in college as he recounts an interaction with a professor.

Years later, when at university, I asked one of my professors if he thought it was possible to live a balanced life, and also be successful in business. Without hesitation, he assured me that it was impossible. I responded by telling him: "Then I guess I won't be successful." Ever since that day, I have been trying to prove him wrong.

Well, as it turns out, Mr. Bentall went on to a very successful career running a construction company. In the article, he shares three principles that helped him keep balanced in his work life -
  • Commitment - "...the critical first step to living a life of balance is deciding that it is more important than other measures of "success." If the pursuit of power, prestige, position, possessions, or even pleasure are your primary goals, then they will dominate your life. If having these things are more important to you than balance, then they will win."
  • Perspective - Bentall describes the benefits of taking a retreat from the "rat race" with this comment. "I had discovered a whole new perspective, simply by stepping out of the rat race for a single day. Perspective is what we need, so that we can gain more wisdom prior to re-entering the battle of everyday living"
  • Sabbath - Bentall recommends we pay attention to Sabbath as a means to obtain rest and recover perspective. "The rest of the week is for work. I have now realized that sabbath is for living. These are the days which can help us gain well needed perspective..."
I'm truly grateful for examples like David Bentall who place family life above career aspirations or vain ambition. There simply aren't enough of such examples around. And, I'm certain that there are wonderful benefits to his suggestions. Yet, I wonder if he has the right perspective on this matter. (By the way, I should also mention that I really like Comment magazine and the mission of its parent organization, Work Research Foundation. Gideon Strauss, the Editor of Comment is great guy and I've found his feedback on various issues very helpful)

I've often heard people speak about "balance in life" but I haven't found it particularly helpful to think of living life in those terms. Although it seems to be conventional Christian wisdom, it doesn't seem to me that the Bible as a whole, instructs us in this way.

Perhaps I'm nitpicking, so please bear with me.

I struggle with the idea of pursuing "balance" as a primary framework for life because it carries a distinct Taoist, yin/yang flavor. Used as a means to regulate our lives, it also falls short of what Scripture really teaches. Here's an example - the Bible instructs us against a headlong pursuit of money, power, etc... not because it's inconsistent with a balanced life but because it's idolatry. That's far more serious than being out of balance - the point is that we cannot serve both money and God. As the only Sovereign One, God simply does not permit us to commit such treason without consequence.

Another problem with using a balanced life as a model is that it leads us to constantly wonder whether if we've achieved the right mix of the activities and responsibilities in our lives. After all, how much is too much?. At a practical level, it tends to focus on the externals of what we're doing instead of the state of our hearts.

The reality is that at times, godly men do difficult jobs that take them away from their families.
Is a job with 50% travel too much? Or should we only take jobs that have little travel? How about being in the military where many fathers won't make it to soccer games or ballet recitals because they're deployed in service to their country?

I'd like to suggest that the biblical model is different. It's centered on passionately loving Christ because He first loved us. No balance in view here - "dive head first", "put your hand to the plough and don't look back", "sell everything you have and come follow...", "lose your life for the sake of the gospel". All this because gaining Christ is the best news of all. And, we spread the supremacy of this love by loving our families, friends and neighbors through the labor of our hands.



Perhaps I'm wrong on this...so please help me out here and share your perspective.

Does the Bible have anything to say about living a balanced life?

Is it biblical to view life this way?

How do you view the priorities of your life in light of biblical teaching?







20 comments:

Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

I think we have to accept God's definition of balance - which is, in actuallity, He, Himself. Nothing held back but never hurried, never without resources, never lacking, never worried, never rushed, always wise, always gracious, always firm and just yet always merciful and gracious.

To be like Christ, because He is the true representation of the Father, this, for me, is balance. How this is actually lived out - what it looks like in everyday life - I think this will look a bit different in each person's life because each person is fearfully and wonderfully made - like snow flakes, no two alike. And to go with these differences in bodies and personalities, God has given different skill sets as well as different spiritual gifts and different life goals and challenges.

So, all that to say that I think to live a balanced life is to live like Christ - to the glory of the Father.

Bo Eaton said...

That is interesting. I agree that the Bible doesn't seem to teach balance as a primary goal in life, as in "as the earth, sky, and water all co-exist in balance, so should our lives strive for balance" -- or something like that. Yeah -- thinking in terms of balance might be helpful at a certain level, but maybe the pursuit of balance is not really the main issue when talking about time for work - family - church - community, etc. Because if balance were the main point, you would also hear discussions of people who spend too much time with their family or church, and need to spend more time at work to achieve balance. But I have not heard that discussion, at least not in Christian literature. The balance is usually discussed as tilting too much towards work. (I did hear of a young Army officer I know being taught that if his wife nags him about all the time he puts in, it is better to divorce his wife and keep his career. Because if he chooses his wife, she might end up divorcing him later anyway, and then he would have neither his career or his wife!) So maybe the real point is whether there are idols that are driving the person to spend so much time at work (or maybe there are not), and a side effect is that his or her family or church are being neglected. So I think you have made a good point. Is thinking in terms of balance helpful imagery, and could it sometimes lead a person away from the true root issues?

bo eaton said...

Ok, I really have to stop writing comments now, but one more question. If balance is not a primary biblical message, what about proportion? Such as, six days for work, and one set apart for the Lord. Or, not in the Bible but in creation, sleep for about a third of the day, awake for about two thirds? As we work out the nuts and bolts of our time management, are their guidelines of proportion God has given us? I have a hard time with this. Saturdays are some of my hardest days, because I always think of twenty important things that I could do all day, and I can't decide which I should neglect.

Mark Goodyear said...

I'm glad you brought up the Yin/Yang issue. That's one of the things I was thinking, but not saying.

This weekend, I decided that the balance metaphor works if I'm talking about a scarce resource--like time or budget. But we can't stretch it too far, because God's grace is hardly a scarce resource.

It's funny that we both wrote about this. Thanks for the heads up on your post.

john grano said...

Hello. I've just started reading Every Square Inch and have enjoyed it. By way of introduction, Andre(host) and I share churches, doctrine and some degree of managerial experience in the marketplace (though in very different careers).

I wanted to jump in on this string because I believe the dialogue speaks to the core of being a Christian in the marketplace.

If I am reading the current posts correctly, a common theme seems to be that "balance" in the marketplace (and anywhere else in life), i.e. godly, scriptural balance, looks differently in different lives but essentially shares devotion to Christ and sanctification as common threads.

Could "fruit of the Spirit" be a metric as to whether one is in balance or not? Is it increasing? Does the stress of your "call" (by that I mean vocation)in life jumpstart sanctification or derail it?

Consider Titus 2:11-12 . . . "For the grace of God [Jesus] has appeared, bringing salvation for all people [including those with highly stressful callings, long hours, long absences etc], training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions [Is this what happens when the heat gets turned up?] and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age [isn't that a good description of godly balance?]

So the mix -- specifically, what gets "balanced" with what -- might be different for different people, but if the fruit is the same, then the root is in Christ.

And wouldn't the converse be the true as well? (Bad fruit; Christ's not the root.)

This might be a helpful metric in making adjustments in life, including the provocative thought of taking more on if your sanctification trajectory is rather low because of a lack of "heat" in your circumstances. [I do understand that for many of us, that's not the problem :)]

Every Square Inch said...

halfmom

Thanks so much for your thoughts on this. I think it's true inasmuch as in Christ, we have the perfect mix of attributes. Here's what Jonathan Edwards says of that perfect blend of attributes -

"There is an admirable conjunction or meeting of diverse and paradoxical elements in the Person of Jesus Christ."

I think part of my problem is that the idea of picturing the christian life as a balance of life's responsibilities, while it seems reasonable, doesn't focus us on Christ, who he is and what he's done for us.

Thanks for pointing us to Christ!

Every Square Inch said...

Bo

Great comment(s). What you said about idols of the heart that drive our behavior is central to this issue. If we approach our life under the framework of balance, we may be less likely to identify sins in our lives and the idols of our hearts.

It's a lot easier to say - "I was out of balance with the amount of time I devoted to work (or a hobby)"...rather than acknowledging that we were sinning by neglecting our family and failing to love them. Or to say, "my work was functioning as an idol in my life."

Every Square Inch said...

Mark

Thanks for your thoughts - I didn't want to come across as contradicting your post but I thought I'd stir the pot a little.

I said it in my post and I'll say it again here - I love Comment magazine and Gideon Strauss is a really smart and thinks biblically about work/life issues...so this post isn't a slam against either.

Just wanted to provoke thinking...

Every Square Inch said...

John

Thanks for your comment. I value your thoughts on the fruits of the Spirit.

However, I wonder - is it even helpful to think of our work/life commitments in terms of balance? Is it the kind of framework that the Bible wants us to have?

If it isn't fundamentally a biblical framework, then using it as a way to regulate our lives may not be helpful. Could it mask some of the issues, Bo referred to (look also at my comment in response to his)

What do you think?

L.L. Barkat said...

I like the way the writer of Ecclesiastes frames it.

To everything there is a season. A time to plant and a time to harvest.

I try to be sensitive to the seasons of my life and move forward in light of them. This is the perspective of context more than balance.

john grano said...

ESI . . .

I totally agree that "balance" is not the goal, as if a "balanced" life is the mark of success. The mark of success in life is worship, giving glory to God in the highest, centrally through a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the subsequently through the cross-centered sanctification that follows such worship.

Perhaps the word balance is better replaced with the word "mix." The "mix" of things in your life can be adjusted so as to increase your worship of Lord Jesus. There, fruit can be a metric.

May I never "balance" my worship of Jesus with anything else!

Every Square Inch said...

LL

Thanks for sharing your thoughts - context rather than balance. It can certainly be helpful to view our lives in terms of seasons.

John,

Thanks - the mix or blend of responsibilities and activities will differ for each person and in different seasons. I think I understand the substance of your point - which is the observance of ""fruit" in our lives indicate if we have the right mix. But do you think that thinking in terms of "mix" might make us minimize sin? (i.e. we're not fruitful because we don't have the right mix/blend)

Just wondering.

Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

I like LL's concept of context rather than balance -

I think the reason I understand (whether I actually succeed or not) that I must keep my focus on Christ is that my basic personality is not at all balanced. I pretty much do everything I do full out - so my life can move, because of my occupation, rather quickly between a peak or a valley and it makes it very difficult to even find any balance, much less focus on it!

Ted Gossard said...

ESI and company,

I like this post. Trying to think in ways of Scripture I do find your point well made.

Jesus's life did seem to have order and rhythm to it, but so in a way beyond that still made his family and friends think he was rather out of his mind. His life was good in a God way, but made little sense in society. They were in the world but not in lock step with the world or worldy wisdom.

Every Square Inch said...

Halfmom

thanks for your additional thoughts on this.

Ted,

I think that's the point - even when a concept seems conventionally Christian, it's important to actually evaluate it on the basis of what scripture says.

Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

my favorite youth group quote from about 25 years of off again/on again work is this:

"you found that in scripture, where??????????"

Darren said...

I love what you guys are talking about here. The work/life balance thing is a tricky concept.

I think the Romans 12:2 idea is good too... not taking how the world does it but allowing God to renew our minds about what true balance looks like.

I don't think it's an unbiblical concept at all. Jesus was perfectly balanced in his ministry, mission, work , spiritual and social life. He had a perfect balance of action, power and wisdom (we tend to lean to one or two of those areas) as well.

I think that the commandments to love God then love others as ourselves gives us our priorites fairly plainly... but how that works out in each of our lives is different according to our calling, stage in life, ministry area etc.

Great discussion here by the way.

Every Square Inch said...

Darren

Thanks very much for your thoughts here.

Just for clarification - when I question whether its biblical, I do not dispute that Jesus was perfectly "balanced" and ordered in his life, ministry, etc... I'm questioning whether we're directed by scripture to seek a balanced life i.e. is that the motif God offers for us to pursue living a godly life?

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Anonymous said...

The path is narrow without balance
we may stray. Just begin to practice surrendering your wills and your lives to the living christ make him your first love.Invest time with jesus,seek wise counsel then just follow instruction.Faith,Hope,Courage,Honesty,Humility.Focus on these spiritual friends balance will come naturally!