One of my favorite scenes from the Disney Classic, Mary Poppins, is when Mary Poppins meets Jane and Michael Banks for the first time. Mary Poppins mesmerizes the children with an array of antics as she pulls large objects–one-by-one–out of her magical carpet bag. After digging to the very bottom, she finds the last item: a tape measure. When the children ask, “What’s that for?” She replies, “To see how you two measure up.”
First she measures little Michael from head to toe. Rather than giving her a number, the tape measure reads: “Extremely stubborn and suspicious.”
Next, Jane. Hers reads, “Rather inclined to giggle. Doesn’t put things away.”
Finally, Mary Poppins measures herself. Hers reads, “Mary Poppins. Practically perfect in every way.”
Measuring tape, measuring sticks–we all use them to determine our levels of balance. We measure our balance against performance reviews at work, USDA recommendations of fruit and vegetable servings, the number of friends (real and virtual) in our posse, staged and edited photos on Pinterest and Instagram, the number on the scale, the bank statement, the cleanliness of our floors…the variety of measuring sticks is as vast as the number of women who use them.
But the three most common measuring sticks among women are Productivity, Comparison, and The Opinions of Others:
Productivity: This is the belief that the more we can accomplish while still keeping it all together, the better. Because we live in a society that idolizes busyness, we often measure ourselves against an exhausting standard. If we are not working, striving, producing from the time we wake up until our heads hit the pillow at night, we are failing. This leaves no room for rest, for creativity, for recreation, for prayer—all elements of a well-balanced life. Productivity is a nice goal—I love productive days—but it’s a horrible measuring stick for balance.
Comparison: We look around at women who appear to be doing everything and doing it well. We don’t measure up, of course, because it’s all an illusion—no one is doing everything and doing it well. Then, we heap shame upon ourselves for not measuring up to something that doesn’t even exist. I have never met a woman who does not struggle with comparison on some level. It is nothing but a trap.
Opinions of Others: Sometimes how other people view our day, our season, or our life can mess with us, just as much as (or more than!) our own thoughts can mess with us. We may be confidently pursuing our “extreme,” knowing full-well that the pendulum will swing back eventually. But others, getting only a snapshot view of our life, see us as unbalanced, and are all-too-willing to let us know! Suddenly, we’re second-guessing our choices. What people think about our choices overrides our priorities. Receiving wise counsel is important (I highly recommend it), but not at the expense of what you know God has told you to do—that’s called People Pleasing.
When we measure ourselves against anything but obedience to the Word of God and God’s specific direction for us, we get into trouble. God can and will lead us into some crazy extremes. Sometimes what God calls “balance” looks like anything but! The last thing we need is some faulty measuring stick telling us we are doing it wrong.
Nothing illustrates this better than bringing home a new baby. Those first few weeks are just stupid. Sleep-deprived and un-showered. Strapping another human to your chest and staying home for days at a time. Napping mid-day (if you’re lucky) and up at 2 am, 4 am, 6 am. Maternity leave. Meal trains (dude, I could get used to the meal train). Laundry piles. Engorged and leaky breasts. Poop and puke everywhere.
A new baby turns every conventional idea of balance on its head. And yet, this is exactly how God designed it to be. So, in the midst of this ridiculousness, there is perfect balance.
I lived a version of this life for about a three-year period, only my newborn experience was intensified, sadly, by a season of grief; first, with the birth of my son, followed by his death at nine months of age, and then the birth of my daughter nine months later. From the time my son was born, until my daughter was about 18-months-old, I pulled back on almost everything outside of my home (and many things inside my home!) to focus on holding my babies, moving through my grief, and rebuilding my faith. I spent most of my time alone or with my husband only. I never hired a baby sitter. I didn’t work outside the home for most of that time. My productivity levels were at an all-time low.
I remember sitting in the rocking chair holding babies, looking out the nursery window, seeing all my female neighbors driving away with styled hair and full make-up every morning. Meanwhile I was in a pony tail and stirrup pants (it was the 90s). My house was a wreck. My flowerbeds overgrown. From an outsider’s point of view, it probably looked like I needed to move on—curl my hair, get a part-time job, dust my mantle—something!
But God knew what I needed: healing, mostly. It’s hard to concentrate on healing when you’re worried about your dusty mantle. What a tragedy it would have been had I measured my balance against the working mom down the street. I couldn’t know this at the time, but I only had nine short months with my son. I can’t imagine if I would have wasted that time fretting about flowerbeds! Given the chance to do it again, I wouldn’t change one single choice from that three-year period (well, the stirrup pants, maybe). That time of extreme pulling back was foundational to the parent, wife, and woman of God I am today.
Granted, most people do understand the need to pull back after a birth or a death. But you may have seasons where God draws you into something deeply internal, that no one understands—not even you. A few years ago, God led me to set down all outside commitments—good and godly commitments, where I was operating in my gifts and helping people—and I didn’t understand why. I fought it a little (okay, I fought it a lot). I loved what I was doing. I had goals and aspirations for writing and speaking. My kids were in school. I had the time. I couldn’t understand the inner feeling that God wanted me to pull back instead of move forward.
Not long after that, the reason became crystal clear when one of my kids entered a time of personal crisis. I needed to be 100% available to that child. Had I been obligated to writing contracts and speaking engagements, I would have not been here. This crisis lasted more than three years. I had no idea what was coming, but God did. I’m so thankful I didn’t plow through and strive for some outward standard of balance.
Maybe God is not asking you to set things down or pull back. Maybe instead, He is leading you to take on more than seems logical. Maybe He’s calling you to focus on that creative project and hire a baby sitter and a house-keeper until it’s finished. Or maybe He’s leading your family to something unsafe and life-altering: the mission field, inner city ministry, or serving the underprivileged in some way that doesn’t appear practical or logical. Maybe He’s calling your family to adopt or foster a child.
This is the time you must neglect all the world’s measuring sticks and pursue God’s mission.
He may not tell you this side of eternity why you need to neglect one thing for a season and focus on another. It all seems unbalanced, but it’s not. It’s perfectly imbalanced-balance. It’s part of a bigger picture that we will see clearly, later.
The key to balance is not to strive for constant equilibrium. The key to balance is not to look around at what everyone else is doing and pursue that. The key to balance is not even to look inside yourself and follow your own heart.
The key to balance is to cling to God, realizing only He knows what our days and weeks hold. Only He can poke and prod us toward balance—whatever that means for our season or our day. Listen intently to the voice of God concerning your season and your priorities for that season. It may just feel like a nudge or a pause. You may have a “yuck” feeling about moving forward in one direction and a peace about moving in a different direction. Obey whatever God says, and pay no attention to those who tell you otherwise.
This is adapted from the project I’m currently working on: The Scoop on Balance Bible Study
It will be a full 8-week study, available in ebook or hard copy, workbook or narrative format.
You can study alone, lead a group, or join me for a private on line teaching!
I’m so excited to get this into your hands soon. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.
Hear Ye! Hear Ye! You can now follow me on Instagram! Click that link or find me @thescooponbalance.
I’m posting daily there, so come check it out.
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