Unbalanced but Centered

There’s a small lake near our home that is home to many ducks, geese, and pelicans in the summer. In the winter, there’s a small area of water that remains open, and the ducks and geese huddle near there on the ice in order to survive. This image reminds me of a different approach to finding a manageable balance in life, an approach that is related to something I heard at a conference several years ago.

The conference was about how lead managing change and transition, and somewhere in his presentation, the presenter shared how important it was to be healthy as a leader in order to lead others effectively. What he said next, I’ll always remember. He said that, for him, the key wasn’t figuring out how to have a balanced life; it was staying centered in the midst of unbalance.

Since then, this phrase has resonated with me, and the ducks are a picture of what it looks like to stay centered in the midst of unbalance, to take time to be filled up with the life-giving water of Jesus in the midst of life’s challenges and responsibilities, knowing that my livelihood depends on it.

Between home, work, school, and everything in between, I’ve come to realize that a balanced life isn’t something I’m ever going to achieve. Seasons ebb and flow and phases come and go, but there will always be multiple demands and responsibilities to juggle. Like many moms, the feeling of never being fully caught up is constant, and the tension between caring for others as well as myself is always there.

However, though a perfectly balanced life isn’t very realistic and may never be possible, a centered life is. So, for me, the question isn’t, “When or how will I find the right balance?” but rather, “What do I need in order to stay centered?”

Over the years, this question has become more and more crucial. I’ve experienced the despair and angst of hitting rock bottom, but doing so has also helped me clarify what I need and to realize that taking the time to stay centered is something I can’t do without. To me, staying centered doesn’t mean that life will be easy, but it does mean that as we navigate the many pressures and demands that come our way, we’re better able to handle them with grace, compassion, and kindness.

There will always be plenty of voices in life trying to tell us who we should be, what we should do, and how we should look if we want to be successful, beautiful, even happy. There is no shortage of people trying to buy into what they say it means to be a good spouse, parent, and career-person. I know these voices don’t have the final say, and that my worth isn’t defined by how much or how well I do.

Yet when I don’t take the time I need to stay centered, it’s a lot harder to not fall into these traps. I start to question my instincts, feel anxious about not measuring up, and I give too much weight to the opinions of others. When this happens, I also struggle more with feelings of guilt about the time I’m away from home, about taking time to exercise, and sometimes even about asking my husband to run an errand.

But Jesus didn’t come into our lives to make us feel guilty, or inadequate, or to give us unrealistic ideals to live up to. Instead, he said that, “The enemy came to steal, kill, and destroy, but I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10- 11). To counter the lies that we are not good enough, not doing enough, and that we should feel guilty when we take care of ourselves, I’ve come to find that taking time with God is not optional, but required. In fact, I believe it’s essential to being the person we are created and called to be.

There have been periods in my life as a working mom when I’ve let it slip, and when I’ve come close to losing my sense of self in the process. The truth I keep coming back to is that when I do take time to be with God, to listen to God’s word, and to simply breathe, I feel much more grounded and centered as a person. And as a result, I not only feel better about myself, I am also more present and at peace in all my other roles.

Over the years, I’ve learned that when I take the time to care for myself, I also feel more connected to the people I care about and positive about those relationships in general  In fact, despite how difficult it can sometimes be to find time to exercise, or fit in a date with Thomas, or take time away from my family to get together with friends, when I make time for these things, I am always reminded of how true it is that when we take time to care for ourselves in body and soul, we have more love and grace to share with others as well.

I’ve also learned, time and time again, that it’s only by spending time with the One who created us that we discover who we are.  That it’s is only by being filled up with God’s love that I can extend love and compassion to others. And that it’s only by listening to God’s still, small voice that I can stay true to who I am rather than be tossed about by the waves of other voices and demands in my life.  My hope and prayer as a pastor and writer is to help others discover this in their own lives as well, so that they too may experience the abundant life that Jesus promises.