Maybe You’re Thinking About Balance All Wrong
I’m guessing when you say you’re “off-balance,” you probably mean you feel overwhelmed and unproductive. Or maybe you can’t quite figure out how to squeeze important people and duties into your already over-committed life. Perhaps what you “should” be doing and what you’re actually doing are two different things. You’re most likely looking around at other women and wondering how the heck they do what they do—and look so good doing it! Meanwhile you’re running yourself ragged just to put a decent meal on the table and catch up on the laundry.
I get it. That was me through most of my 20s and 30s (and also, one day last week).
I felt constantly harried, overly busy, disorganized, and unfocused. Juggling my career, my home, my marriage, my ministries, and eventually my babies, left me feeling drained and inadequate. I desperately wanted balance, but balance felt impossible—at least for me.
I remember looking at other women at work, at Target, in their cars passing by me, and I assumed they all knew something I didn’t. I was convinced I was the only one who couldn’t figure it out. I thought everyone had it together, but me.
This was the 90s. I couldn’t Google “how to achieve balance” for answers. For half that decade I had stirrup pants and a spiral perm, but no Internet. (These were desperate times.) Yet, I was determined to crack the code. If a tip, a system, a secret ingredient to life-balance existed, I would uncover it.
So, I did what I always did when I wanted to figure something out in the 90s: I headed to Barnes and Noble and camped out in the self-help section. There I sat cross-legged on the floor with a giant, sugary, fat-free, caffeinated beverage, devouring book-after-book on time-management and home-organization.
Armed with my newfound information, I purchased a new day-planner (the obvious first step in time-management and home-organization prowess).
Then, I tweaked my laundry system.
And reorganized my closets.
And implemented a new diet and exercise regimen. (A small part of me has always believed I can fix everything by eating more green vegetables.)
And called my friends and asked for advice (complained).
And vowed to be a better human.
And prayed—a lot.
But nothing worked—not even the prayer. Time with God was just one more thing I struggled to fit into my already-packed schedule.
There’s no way anyone can actually do this balance thing. I may as well just succumb to my overwhelming, unfocused life. I give up.
After several desperate attempts and failures at achieving life-balance, I concluded balance was a myth, a unicorn—pretty and intriguing, but fake.
Then, in what I thought to be an unrelated act, I picked up a short Bible study written by Cynthia Heald called, Becoming a Woman of Freedom. At the time, I had no idea that the balance I was seeking was actually what the Bible calls “freedom.” Freedom and balance are interchangeable terms. (The word “balance” also appears in the Bible, but only as it relates to scales or money. A Bible study about honest scales and bank accounts will not help you feel less frazzled, trust me.)
Heald’s study helped me identify weights I carried—weights that, turned out, directly affected my on-going struggle with balance. Then it led me to Scriptures that specifically addressed those weights. As I applied these Biblical truths to my life, I began to feel lighter, freer. This gave me hope that maybe balance was possible, after all.
That year, I sat at my kitchen table with a toddler running around my legs and a baby in the bouncy seat next to me. I worked through that Bible study two more times. I highlighted and underlined and dog-eared the heck out of that little book. I was so inspired that I invited a group of young moms from my neighborhood into my messy house to study it with me. Later, I taught that same Bible study to a group of women at my church. Several of those women wanted to go through the study a second time, so I invited them into my home, and we went through it again.
In the process of teaching these truths to other women, I absorbed them deeply into my heart. Every time I taught it, God led me to more Scripture and more insight into the subject of freedom and life-balance—which, in turn, gave me more hope. I kept adding my new discoveries and personal illustrations to the Bible study material. Eventually, I had so much additional material, I realized I wasn’t even teaching the Cynthia Heald study any longer. It grew into an entirely new study.
Not only that, but I also realized I was living the well-balanced life I had been striving for all those years.
Over the next 10 or so years, I taught what I was learning every place I could…in my church, in my living room, in my neighborhood clubhouse, here on my blog. Every time I taught it, I learned more and more about what caused women to feel off balance and more importantly, I understood what real balance actually was…and wasn’t.
Balance is a Myth?
I hear women say this all the time. Prominent Christian women leaders have said this in their books and from the podium. Countless women I follow in the online space have said it. I recently heard two Christian women on a podcast discussing how they refuse to even use the term. One of my favorite women I follow on Facebook has a hilarious video on balance where she bleeps the word balance out, like it’s profanity.
I have been tempted to think the same thing. It’s the easy way out, actually. Just decide balance is not a “thing” and voila! we’re off the hook.
The women I know who think balance is a myth are really smart women. In fact, in my opinion, they appear to be balancing life fabulously. Then why do they say balance is impossible?
Here’s my theory:
1. They have a very bad definition of balance.
2. They have adopted some bad balance metaphors that don’t translate well to actual life.
What Balance is Not
What is a good definition of balance, then? Well, before we can have a good definition of balance, let’s decide together what balance is NOT.
- Balance is not doing everything.
- Balance is not doing everything your friends are doing.
- Balance is not doing everything your friends think you should be doing.
- Balance is not doing everything you see on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, or whatever social media venue is hip when you are reading this.
- Balance is not doing everything well.
- Balance is not doing everything by yourself, without help.
- Balance is not doing a little of everything each day.
- Balance is not spreading yourself equally among every person, task, responsibility, and expectation.
- Balance is not the absence of stress.
If you’re pursuing any of the above things and calling it “balance,” then you were correct to declare that it is a myth.
The Power of the Wrong Word Picture
Metaphors for balance can be helpful or harmful depending on how far we apply them to actual life. They can put a picture in our heads of what balance SHOULD be, and so we strive for this picture. What usually happens, though, is that we take the picture a little too literally, and we inevitably fall short. When we do, then we think we’ve failed (or we think that balance is impossible).
Here are the most common balance metaphors.
This one is the most common metaphor for life balance. I even use it in my logo! In some ways, this metaphor works well. It implies constant adjustment, which I believe is completely necessary for balance. But it also implies that we need to get it exactly perfect, or everything falls off.
For years, I visualized balance this way. I saw balance as something I needed to adjust perfectly every day. One extra task or responsibility on one side of the scale meant a task or responsibility of equal effort and time had to go off the scale, lest the extra thing would cause the scale to tip and throw off the entire day.
I was constantly manipulating each day down to the minute to achieve what I perceived to be balance. Parenting, cooking, cleaning, exercising, praying, socializing, ministering, resting, wife-ing—every day, I was constructing and reconstructing the tasks to squeeze it all in. (Note: I was trying to do this with babies and toddlers in the home. This, my friend, is a recipe for crazy.)
In real life, my days and my children cannot be manipulated down to the minute. Neither can yours.
2. Balance Beam
This one implies that while you are able to stay on this narrow piece of elevated, padded wood, and perform all your beautiful gymnastics, without falling, you’re well-balanced.
Okay…that works a little. I mean, balance often requires the grace and skill of an experienced gymnast. But…
It also implies you are performing in front of judges, or at the very least, an audience who are rating you every time you waver or stumble. (Your spiritual enemy would love for you to believe this is true, but it’s simply not.)
It implies, if you fall off a balance beam, you will seriously injure yourself—break a bone or sever your spinal cord or crack your head open. This again is such a harsh view of actual life. In real life, you have a lot more room for error and grace.
3. Juggling balls or spinning plates
I find myself using this one all the time. (I even used it at the beginning of this post!) I often refer to my daily tasks as “what I’m juggling.”
The problem is that it implies I am responsible for keeping it all in the air. If something falls, it breaks and shatters. It also implies that I can’t simply stop and rest. I can’t set anything down EVER because the whole thing will crash.
One twist to this metaphor that helps me tremendously is to visualize some of the balls I’m juggling being made of rubber and some of the balls being made of glass.
The truth may be that we are juggling a lot of things in life, but not all the things will be damaged if we drop them. Some of them will just bounce away under the couch and we’ll forget all about them until we move the furniture at Christmastime, and in the midst of dust bunnies and cat hair, we’ll find the thing we dropped, and we’ll be all, “Oh yeah…I forgot all about this.”
But other balls are very fragile and need much more care. These glass balls are our highest priorities (your faith, your children, your marriage, your closest human relationships). And the truth is, very few of the balls we are juggling are made of glass…most of them are rubber.
Hear ye, Hear ye: no one can even out every day so nothing ever slips off; no one can navigate a balance beam perfectly forever; and no one can keep all the balls or plates in the air always.
No wonder women conclude that balance is a myth! By those definitions, it is! This is why word pictures are so powerful—you could be living a well-balanced life yet feel like a failure, simply because of the way you see balance in your mind.
A Great Definition for Balance
After much thinking, studying, praying, and talking with other women over 20 years, here is my definition. I’ll give you a long version and a short version:
Long version: Balance is a spiritual condition (peace), whereby I know my priorities (what I should do) and I live my priorities (how I should do it) through freedom in Christ (operating in my gifts and strengths, with right attitudes and right thinking.)
Short version: Balance is the peace I get when I know my priorities and I’m living them out.
This means, I can be dropping balls all over the place, but if I’m living out my priorities, then I can have peace because I am living a balanced life.
This means, I can fall flat off the balance beam, but if I’m living a life that reflects what is most important to me, then I can have peace and I will be living a well-balanced life.
This means, my scale can be totally lopsided –and you know what? Most of the time it is. Most of the time, I’m saying yes to very few things and I’m letting 100 things fall off the other side, because I’m living a life that honors the things that are most important to me. From the outside looking in, you may think I’m getting it all wrong.
But if I have peace that I’m living out my priorities, then I can also have balance.
And so can you.
This post is adapted from Episode 2 of The Balanced MomCast with Sandy Cooper. You can listen to the audio version on iTunes, stream from the web, or listen on Spotify,
This is also a portion of the introduction of my book, Finding Your Balance, an 11-Lesson Bible Study. If you’d like to dive deeply into the reasons behind your balance struggles, you will love this book.
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You are such an encourager!! I love reading your blog/posts/whatever-word-is-cool-now! (I’m old so I still enjoy reading!) Thanks for reminding us that we never stop growing and adapting in the area of life-balance, but you sound like a woman who has grown into her “lane” in life! And you don’t mind admitting mistakes and sharing your journey in order to help others find and get comfortable in their lane. One of my major takeaways today is that my lane is MY lane and comparison is ridiculous because our paths are all different! You are such a blessing in my life! Love you my friend!