Balancing act

by Kristin on December 3, 2012

in Love, family & community

Photo by mikebaird

The physical act of balance seems to be something we can practice and learn, whether we’re a child learning to ride a two-wheeler, or an adult mastering new poses in a yoga class. I even have a friend in town whose brother can do amazing maneuvers on one of those super-tall unicycles, which he often uses to travel around town. That such a feat of balance is even humanly possible amazes me. (I love the photo above—I’m the kid with the training wheels, sticking to the grass.)

But when it comes to that less physical, more mental and emotional sense of balance, I’m beginning to think I will never learn. One weekend, I over-work; the next weekend I over-play. One day I’m all about giving myself grace, but the next day it seems clear that what I need is a good kick in the butt. After spending an evening catering to everyone else’s needs—doing laundry, helping with homework, updating the church website, and generally sacrificing what I’d rather be doing for what everyone else needs me to do—I over-compensate the next evening by being completely selfish, justifying it by reminding myself that it’s good for my kids to not be rescued by me at every turn.

If life balance is something that can possibly be practiced and mastered, I should be pretty good at it by now. Not only have I had plenty of time to practice (I’ve lived, well, let’s just say a good number of years), I’ve also had plenty of experiences to hone my skills along the way. I was a new mother, then a mother of an infant and a two-year-old, then a single mother. I’ve done project management work, that forced me to learn how to keep a dozen or more projects all spinning at once, and for the past decade I’ve been working as a freelance writer, which requires a fair amount of discipline and balance, seeing as how the only boss looking over your shoulder is you. So why is balance still so difficult?

Last week I was thinking about all of the fine lines in our lives—the ones we can so easily sail over without a thought in the world, unless we have a reason to be on the lookout for them. Oddly enough, it was a shoe shopping mission that sparked this self-reflection. (See? Shopping isn’t always a shallow act!) I was looking for shoes I could go out in, that felt substantially different than any I already own. I kept gravitating toward “safe” choices—shoes that felt like me—so I had to really push myself to look at unexpected options. But then, every time I tried on a pair of “unexpected” shoes, I thought, “These just don’t feel like me.”

Suddenly, I understood which particular fine line I was in search of, in many areas of my life: that line where “stretching and pushing yourself” meets “accepting and being yourself.” And yes, that’s a very, very fine line, but an important one to locate—especially in matters other than fashion. How do we keep from creating well-worn grooves in our lives, without always having to feel the strain of navigating new territory? How can I be myself in my writing, while also challenging myself to write in a style or on a subject that might be downright frightening? How do we further invest in the value of what we already have—the skills, the relationships, the beliefs and knowledge—and still have enough time and energy left over to expand and build out on new territory?

As I thought about these questions today, it occurred to me that maybe balance is really all about the work of it—the back and forth, the compensating and experimenting, the failing and getting up the next day to tweak it all some more. In other words, it isn’t about arrival and mastery, but the process, in much the same way that life isn’t about the destination but the journey.

And seeing as how I have Advent on the brain, it also occurred to me that this striving and yearning for balance that I’m feeling is really what this season is all about—feeling the tension between what is and what we hope for, what we could be. Maybe some of that inherent frustration is important, because it keeps us attentive, in search of those fine lines as we long for balance in this now-and-not-yet time.

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  • Caris Adel

    How do we keep from creating well-worn grooves in our lives, without always having to feel the strain of navigating new territory?

    This is what I struggle with, but I’m starting to see a pattern – I’ll go through a few months of wrestling and deepening and frustration, and then it mellows out, and I get used to the new normal, and then something else will spur another round a few months later. I used to be really frustrated with it, like ‘when am I ever going to be able to just be’ and once I could see the pattern, and realize that it’s just part of my personality, it helped me go with the flow a little bit better.

    • kt_writes

      Patterns are good, when you recognize them! I do think it’s probably “normal” to go through seasons of comfort and upheaval—that it’s an important part of the process, even if it isn’t always pleasant.

  • Lisa Colon DeLay

    For me, I think, the prevalent theme of Advent is often longing. Longing to balance, maybe, but also for peace, rescue, forgiveness, security, and many other things including that the pains of this world be mitigated. I imagine Mary, expectant with Jesus, could have felt similarly. And really all these feelings that creep up in Advent season are really what makes it powerful, or transforming (potentially) and what makes the Incarnation (and its celebration) a great relief. Namely, a “promise fulfilled”. . . not that we cash in on that promise enough, or even can manage that, but it’s there, offered to us. The Peace and Joy of the Incarnation is “at hand”…and sometimes we can and do lock into it. Sometimes we fumble around. None of this comes as a surprise and betrayal to God. He knows our weaknesses and loves us all the same.

    He is love to us. Which is to say, he is Jesus to us. My spiritual director asked me once, “You are (being/acting like) Jesus to others, but are you being Jesus to yourself? Are you giving yourself the same kind of love, (sourced in Jesus, and given by him, through you)?” A darn good question and challenge, I’d say! :)

    • kt_writes

      This is so wise: “…all these feelings that creep up in Advent season are really what makes
      it powerful, or transforming (potentially) and what makes the
      Incarnation (and its celebration) a great relief.” We try so hard to get rid of those feelings of longing—to feed them or masque them, rather than just sit with them.

      • Lisa Colon DeLay

        oh, yes. Sitting with them. That feels like no fun. Pain. I run fast, and ask questions later. Tell, you what…in the next week or so, if I sense this, I WILL try to sit with them. I may even “put a shout out” ….something like …”I’m sitting all over the place” or something like that. Maybe hashtag #Adventsitting …you’ll find me :) whoa …hang on… maybe just…. #AS (to be on the safe side lol)

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