Without a doubt, one of the most common challenges I hear from men has to do with finding “life-balance.” I often hear men say, “I have to figure out how to strike a balance between work and family,” or, “it’s all about finding a happy medium.”
It’s not just men. If I had a penny for every time I heard thought leaders, leadership gurus, or self-help experts advocate “life balance,” I would be a rich man.
Many of us try again and again to achieve this elusive goal. We struggle with guilt about feeling like there is always a relationship we’re neglecting or a priority that is misaligned. Shame and depression sneak in as we compare ourselves to others who seem to have found the perfect balance. They are physically fit, make a ton of money in a career they love, and seem to have the perfect family.
Of course, we know about most of these super-balanced individuals because they often trumpet it through social media. Meanwhile the rest of us seem to be the only ones who haven’t discovered the secret sauce.
Allow me to relieve your anxiety and boldly proclaim that life balance is a myth!
It doesn’t exist.
What’s more is that, as Christians, God does not call us to life-balance. Rather, Jesus calls us to embrace life-imbalance, “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” – John 12:25
Here are 3 reasons to ditch “life balance”.
1. LIFE BALANCE PUTS US AT THE CENTER OF THE FULCRUM
The images I often conjure in my mind of life-balance are either myself standing on top of a seesaw balancing weights on either side, or walking a tightrope holding a long pole. In either scenario I am the fulcrum, and responsible for maintaining equity between all my responsibilities and obligations.
Noticeably absent in my visual metaphor is God.
The idea of life-balance places too much power and authority in our own hands and neglects the sovereign role of God in our lives. When I focus on this, I operate as a functional atheist with a myopic, near-sighted perspective, blind to God’s transcendent purposes. I often challenge men on this point because we’re so prone to think we’re the main character in our story, when it isn’t our story at all.
In reality, we find ourselves in God’s meta-narrative, his bigger story. When we live with that perspective, our agendas become subservient to His purposes. Suddenly what we thought was important is not, and vice versa. Our stories only take on meaning and significance within the context of His story, and this fundamentally changes our priorities.
This is what Jesus meant when he said we save our lives by losing them (Matthew 16:25). We have to lose our life in the context of God’s will to find true life.
God’s desire is for us to trust Him in every situation we find ourselves in. Sometimes that might look to the world like an out of balance life. Just ask anyone who’s started a business, or dealt with tragedy, or given up their lives (in any way) for the sake of the gospel.
2. “BALANCE” INSINUATES THE IMMINENT, PERSISTENT RISK OF CATASTROPHE
Going back to my seesaw metaphor or walking a tightrope, there is an imminent, persistent risk of catastrophe with life balance that puts enormous pressure on us. If we lose balance and fall, it can mean disaster. Or at least that’s the way it feels. In my mind’s eye this looks like falling into the Grand Canyon.
Come to think of it, this probably says something about me psychologically.
Maybe for you it’s a balance beam on the playground. Or maybe instead of falling you think of balancing plates in each hand.
Either way, the stakes are too high because our view of ourselves is too high. Interestingly enough, the stakes get eternally higher when we live like God is sovereign, but the pressure gets much lighter.
This is where we find tremendous joy because we experience God’s grace in using us for His purposes. We see God work and we become more and more reassured of His goodness and faithfulness. In time, we learn to simply step into hard and challenging situations with open hands, expecting God to move. It isn’t that we don’t still experience fear, hurt, sadness, or disappointment anymore. It’s just that our weightier confidence in God keeps us grounded.
So, the risk of catastrophe we often feel has more to do with our own agenda-driven insecurities, motivated by the fear of losing something we have, or not getting what we want. God’s redemptive mission is not dependent on us, the victory is already won in Christ. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain, and it is our joy to be used by Him in accomplishing that mission.
3. PURSUING LIFE BALANCE HANDICAPS US FROM TRUSTING GOD
The unexpected is more certain than the mundane, yet it always comes as a surprise. Whether it is sickness, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or unforeseen economic disaster, those “black swan” moments are actually the things in life that mold and shape us more than anything.
Jesus was also very clear about expecting these things, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33
Even though we can apply Jesus words to various tribulations, he was actually talking about something most of us never experience – intense persecution for our faith. The context for this verse is not the normal, everyday, garden-variety suffering that is common to every man.
We do everything we can to avoid uncertainty, discomfort, or disruption. I think we are deceived into thinking we can insulate ourselves as long as we do the ‘responsible’ thing, treat others fairly, or work hard. Our designer lives have become too comfortable. Most of us, including myself, are too fragile and have little tolerance for hardship.
Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to discount anyone’s suffering. In fact, if you’ve been through it, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. You are probably familiar with the post-traumatic growth associated with the work God does through hardship.
Unfortunately, many of us neglect our need for God because we are convinced we’re in control, we’re living a “balanced life.” Anything that threatens to upset this balance is viewed as a shocking disruption, and we may question our faith or the goodness of God.
THE ALTERNATIVE: A “CENTERED” LIFE
The “centered” life is different from a balanced life in that one is centered on Christ. He is the fulcrum on which we stand, the immovable rock on which we build our lives. This frees us from having to depend on ourselves and maintain the illusion of balance which always ends in disaster.
When teaching his disciples about treasures in heaven and not worrying about our lives, Jesus said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” – Matthew 6:33
God will provide everything we need when we prioritize His kingdom purposes and finding our righteousness in Him alone. If I’m honest, my efforts for balance are often motivated by seeking a righteousness apart from Christ.
When we are centered on Christ we no longer live in fear because we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Our agendas have been put aside for the sake of God’s redemptive purposes and we find joy in those purposes which transcend our own.
Lastly, as we depend on God and watch Him work out His redemptive purposes, we grow in our faith. This only serves to bolster our confidence in God’s goodness and perpetuate greater trust in Him and less pressure on ourselves. Regardless of whether our life is balanced or not, from a worldly perspective, we can rest in Christ.
So, the next time someone says you need to find life balance, tell them you’ve decided to live a life centered on Christ instead.
Jack Fortin, Principal for Centered Leadership, LLC and Senior Fellow at Augsburg College’s Center for Faith and Learning, wrote a little book entitled, “Centered Life.” This was a great resource for me as I began to move away from balance to a more centered life. I would commend this resource to anyone else as well.