Forget Balance

At Lee Middle School’s monthly PTSA meetings, I’ve been asked to give an uplifting five-minute devotional. I’m not sure I met the “uplifting” part in February when I proffered, “There’s no such thing as balance. The sooner we realize this, the better.” Nothing like a little pick-me-up for parents. In the remaining minutes I tried explaining what I meant, but those words rang loudly in my ears, making me cringe long after I left. I prayed for something like mass, selective amnesia to descend upon the attendees.

The truth is, while I may not have done that statement justice in five minutes, I honestly believe that when we “forget balance,” it has the potential of freeing us to live a less stressed, more enriching existence. Hear me out.

In my mid-twenties to mid-thirties, I was on a path of conquest to live a balanced life.
“Balance,” at that point, meant putting all the varied aspects of my life into perfect proportions. Determined, I set about arranging my life like a plate of food in a balanced diet, except instead of protein and vegetables it held work and everything else. I was confident that by scheduling carefully, logically dividing time equally and tempering the number of my “yeses” to “nos,” I could achieve a life of near-perfect harmony. Year after year I edged closer, balance inches from my grasp. I knew the day would soon come when life’s table would be set perfectly and sanity would be mine.

During that decade, my husband and I invested excessive time and energy toward our various “projects,” convincing ourselves the sacrifices were worth it. Another push here, more time there, and the work (or home tasks, or schooling, or social life …) would reach the “correct” proportion. But time and again, just as life seemed to be simmering down and the “perfect plate” was nigh, the dishwasher broke, our daughter got sick, urgent must-do deadlines or couldn’t-miss opportunities arose. The unexpected kept showing up like clockwork, always on time to sabotage order and sanity. I was baffled, exhausted and my head hurt from over-analyzing and re-strategizing.

And then, one midnight a light went on, a slow-dawning “eureka” through exhausted fog: Life will never be balanced. I realized with growing clarity and surprising relief that no matter how hard we tried, how much extra time we threw at projects, how determined or committed we were, there would always be more to do and deal with, to tackle and work through — always — until death. And this realization brought me life.

If the tasks and “musts” of life will always and evermore keep turning up, then what’s the point of trying to master them all? It’s like the groundhog game at the fair: hammer in hand, you try to bop down the head in front of you, only to have three more pop up in its place. Tasks and projects are givens; people and quality moments are not. Work shouts, pleasure whispers. Perceived “musts” are stronger than our “wants” and take more time than we think. You can’t win, so maybe just put the hammer down and go get ice cream instead. Stop sooner than you ought. Play more than you plan. Forget balance, and tip the scales toward joy. It might be that when you do, you’ll get what you really needed all along.

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