Several years ago, I was overdue for some time alone, so I scheduled a massage, squeezing it into the only free hour I could find in my calendar. I couldn’t wait to tune out for a while and not be needed by anyone. That all changed when, fifteen minutes into the massage, I sat up in alarm, realizing that I had completely forgotten to pick up my then preschool-aged daughter. I threw on my clothes and ran out the door as fast as I could. And as I drove to pick her up, I remember thinking what a perfect portrayal of my life this was.
Since becoming a mom, I’ve read countless articles and books about finding work/life balance. This is also a common topic in conversations with other moms. Some are pastors; others work in a variety of professions. Some work full-time, others part-time, and some are stay at home moms. Yet the thing we have in common, is that we are each, in our own way, trying to figure out the answer to this elusive question.
In one book I read, the author said that for her, the trick was to identify five top priorities and to then choose three each day. Another author said she and her husband came up with a list of things that were present when their whole family was at their best, then adjusted their work and kids’ activity schedules to make time for those things more consistently.
In the ELCA, there is a visual tool called the wholeness wheel that shows multiple areas of wellness and invites the one looking at it to ask themselves if there is an area of well-being that they may have neglected or feel called to focus on.
However, no matter what tool you use to help navigate through the multiple demands and responsibilities that come our way each day, the fact remains that there are all sorts of factors that influence our decisions on a regular basis. Not only that, when it comes to discerning what a balanced life looks like, the answer often changes depending on the particular season or phase of life you happen to be in.
I once attended a conference where there was a brief time of entertainment before each general session. I’ll always remember one of the entertainers more than any of the others. Of all the entertainers, one stuck out to me more than the others. It was a man whose talent was plate spinning, which involved balancing numerous plates on long, wobbly sticks.
He started out with just a couple of sticks, on which he would place a plate and then spin it. As his act continued, he added more plates, one at a time, while at the same time making sure all the others kept spinning as well. The goal was for him to get all the plates spinning on top of the sticks at the same time without any of them falling. I don’t remember this guy’s name, but I do remember this image and how close he was, multiple times, to one of the plates crashing down. I’m often reminded of this visual in my own life. It takes constant energy to keep the balls of life up in the air.
No matter what season of life we are in, there are many things we each need to juggle. On top of that, though there are ups and downs to each phase, and something particularly great and particularly challenging to every season, we live in a world that is drastically different than the one many of us grew up in.
Among other factors, social media, pressure to enroll our kids in activities at an early age, and increasing rates of depression and anxiety in children and adolescents cause many parents today- at least this one- to feel as though the stakes are higher than they ever were before.
It’s because of this reality that I’m often reminded of something I heard my senior year in seminary, when a retired pastor came to talk to one of our classes about his experiences in ministry. My classmates and I were particularly interested in hearing how he had balanced the commitments of work and home. His answer caught us by surprise: “I quickly learned there is no such thing as a balanced life,” he said. “It’s more about figuring out what the proper imbalance is at a given time.”
Hearing those words early in my professional life took away any allusion that a perfect work/life balance was achievable. They helped me grasp the reality that life and ministry would be a perpetual juggling act, something that has held true.