As kids we loved to practice our balance. We were quick to jump up onto a ledge, curb or railroad track, and tight-rope walk, using our arms to sway from side to side all the while doing our best not to fall. Sometimes our balancing ended in triumph as we made our way all the way from one end of the railing to the other! Our balancing skills were something to be marveled at. "DID YOU SEE THAT?" we'd say if we made it from point A to B successfully, or if we had siblings, "I bet you can't go the whole way."
Other times our balancing left a lot to be desired. We would teeter and totter on the ledge, frantically swinging our arms back and forth as fast as we could, trying hard to regain our balance, only to end up taking a defeated step or jump off the ledge. Other times, when we didn't give up early enough, that step down or jump off would turn into an embarrassing fall, because we held on one second longer than we could afford.
I have a lot of embarrassing stories about losing my balance. I grew up with a head larger than most, and I always joke during my stories that this led to a lot of my life issues. Well, I actually can say that I think it did led to most of the stitches in my chin. I don't know the exact count, and I am sure my parents might have a record of it in my baby book, but when I could finally walk without falling over, I had accrued around 36 stitches in my head and chin, mostly in my chin from falling down stairs, off car bumpers or just straight to the ground.
But even so, it (my large head) didn't stop me from balancing on ledges, tracks and parking spot dividers. I loved it as a kid. It was such a challenge -- move too quickly and you would probably fall. Too slowly and you would probably fall. Think about it too much and you would probably fall. Think about it too little and you would probably fall. Occasionally a sibling feeling ornery would push you and you would fall. There were a loads of ways your balancing act could come to an end, but that never seemed to stop you as a kid.
Somewhere in life balance shifts from a game we play with ledges to a way we walk through life. It becomes more stressful and less playful as we start balancing our faith, relationships, job, free time, resources, money, kids and so much more. And whether you are balancing on a ledge or balancing all the aspects of life, I think we could all agree that balancing is hard.
Currently, June (17 months) is walking and running around like a little maniac and I love it. You can tell though that she still is working on this balance thing. She will run from one room to the next, stop and then awkwardly shuffle her feet to turn around and come back. It isn't the most fluid movement you'll see. The same can be said the first time you jumped up onto a ledge. You probably didn't make it from one end to the other without an error. It took some time to understand the speed at which to walk, what to focus on, how high your arms should be lifted up, etc.
The same isn't said about balancing life. Sure, your parents might have eased you into adulthood by giving you tasks and responsibilities as you grew, but there is still nothing like the first time you realize you are an actual adult, with no more school, just paying rent/mortgage, working a full-time job, shopping for a car, getting married, having a kid, paying off school loans, etc.
That moment hits some like a ton of bricks and it can be difficult. Adulthood can end up making you feel like your life is a swirling vortex of chaos and you'll never check everything off your list or have time to take a shower again. You feel like people will judge you because you aren't doing enough and you feel guilty about relaxing. Others simply ignore the idea of adulthood altogether, and never stop acting like a kid, wasting their life away doing nothing, only to complain in five years that your peers actually have.
For those of you who really want to get balance "right" and want to stop feeling like you are in a chaos vortex, I understand. I used to feel guilty pretty often when I would leave a task on my list and instead do something outside of work. I used to feel that if I didn't do A, B + C every day I wasn't working hard enough, and if I wasn't working hard enough, I didn't deserve what I have.
And it was all because I lacked balance. As I was walking on the ledge of life, I was leaning so hard one way that I was constantly feeling frustrated, and constantly off target. I felt like I was stepping off the track every fifty feet with miles to go. But that's what happens when we lean to heavily to one side while balancing, we fall. There is no way around it.
I love my job and love what I do, but even with that, I was finding myself in constant stress over it. It was weighing me down to one side so heavily I was off balance. And this is where you might expect me to say, "So take time to relax and do your nails" because that's how we look at balance so often. If we lean too heavily one way, we need to add more to the other side, so we even back out.
But I found that when I would try to do that, "relax", I'd only end up feeling like I was wasting time. It was like I was on a tight rope and had a giant pole in my hands. When I felt like I was weighted too heavily to the work side, I would add more relaxing stuff to the non-work side, but all of that was only leading a heavier pole in my hands. I wasn't actually balancing, I was just evening the scales by adding more weight.
I think the thing we might actually need to do is take away -- from both sides. Instead of balancing 500 things on our scale, trying to make one even out the other, maybe we need to strip our lives down to the basics and just balance 5 or 10 things really well.
I have already written extensively on my blog about why Brooke and I made the decision to shut down our retail stores, close our wedding businesses, and find what truly brings us joy. To live a life of actual balance. And as we stripped away the layers of weight we had added onto our fake balancing act, we realized a few things. One is that we are happier, and I think all humans would be happier if they focused on what actually brings them joy and not what should bring them joy.
The other was that when your life is easier, it is easier to balance. We obviously noticed that we made less money by going the route we did, but we quickly realized that when we made less money we had less to spend, and we could focus on buying the right things. We made less money this year than we ever have while being married, and financially, this has been the least stressful year of our marriage.
We also realized that when you have less stuff to balance you have more time to balance. We realized that while one day we might need to work harder to get some things done, we could use the next day to spend as a family for balance. It wasn't werk, werk, werk, and then maybe do something as a family. It was so much more doable because we created space to do it.
We also started to look at balance as a moving target. I think too often we believe that we have to work this many hours of day, pray this many hours a day, read this many hours a day, eat this healthy every day, and spend this much, or little, money every day. We try to make every day a carbon copy of the last, but no day is the same. When Brooke and I started to look at balance as a moving target, it gave us room to give ourselves and each other grace. When one day was spent enjoying our family and not working, we knew that the next day might be more heavily spent working. When we spent too much money one day because a friend invited us to a lunch, we knew that we could find balance on another day by cooking all meals at home. When I got an itch for a buffalo chicken sub or a doughnut, I knew that balance could come tomorrow when I ate a salad for lunch.
I think when we try to balance all the things, all the days, we feel frantic the minute our day changes its routine. But that simply isn't life! Things are always coming up and true balance is being able to navigate those changes without going crazy.
During my one-on-one sessions, or my live Periscope show, I almost always get a question about balance, because we all want it. We really haven't changed much from that kid walking on a ledge. We just want to make it from one end to the other without falling, so we can turn around to those watching and say, "Did you see that?"
But the thing about life is that you won't make it from one end to the other without a few falls. You won't make it without waving your arms frantically, leaning back and forth like a weirdo. You won't make it without having to step down, or by pulling a grape lady and falling off so hard it knocks the wind out of you. And that's okay. Hopefully when you fall you have people around you to help you back up and dust you off. If not people, then hopefully you have Jesus to do just that.
I've learned that I find it much easier, and graceful, to balance on the ledge of life when I have less of everything else and more of what matters - my God, my family and my health. That instead of trying to carry it all to the end, I just carry what matters.