Antiochian Orthodox Church.
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Friday, October 11, 2013
The Delusion Of Balance
A small affliction born for God’s sake is better before God than a great work performed without tribulation.
St. Isaac the Syrian
Parishioners often ask me how they can find balance in their life. I often don’t know what to say because the very notion of balance itself, in the actual living of the life in Christ, seems to me to be too self-directed to be very useful. Balance assumes that ends can be held in tension, that burdens and cares can be shifted by some kind of intentional, rational manipulation so that the sail boat of our life does not capsize. Balance is a kind of tyrant, a responsibility; it implies that one should be able to “hold everything together.” Balance sees life as a kind of beam, a linear reality or set of linear realities that must be continually adjusted, tweaked and managed. Balance never lets you give yourself completely to anything because it assumes a zero-sum reality: to give yourself more to one thing is to give yourself less to another. It assumes that stasis in life is both good and possible.
When we think about how to live the life in Christ, balance is not a very useful image (and it is not at all a biblical image).
How then should we think about our life in Christ? One very biblical image and one I find useful is the way: walking the path of life. Paths are not static. They change, they turn, and they go somewhere. Life is full of seasons, seasons are full of days, days are full of moments. Each moment presents unique opportunities for communion and love, and unique temptations for selfishness; each day comes with its own set of resources and obligations (physical, psychological and circumstantial); and each season of life has its own limitations and opportunities. We cannot manage life, we can only live it.
If we want to give ourselves to prayer, for example, what that looks like on any given day, at any given moment, will differ. We cannot balance our life as though we knew in advance what any given moment or day would hold and so that each experience of prayer is the same. We can only live and offer our life to God. We pray in whatever ways are possible given the limitations, opportunities and resources of that particular season and day and moment of our life.
Consider this: we hear nothing of the life of Christ between the ages of twelve and thirty--a silence that shouts to us of hiddenness and prayer. But when Jesus begins his public messianic ministry, He prays in the mountains, slips away at night, sleeps in the back of boats, and is continually (seemingly) interrupted by his disciples and the crowds. Jesus doesn’t manage his life as Messiah, He lives it. He drinks the cup His Father has given Him.
Similarly, we must drink the cup the Father has given us.
Some may say, “But Father Michael, I have made such a mess of my life. I’m sure my life is very different now from what God would have wanted. How can I say I am drinking the cup of the Father when I have made bad choices and I have made mistakes and done foolish things that have come to shape and limit my life as it is now?” My answer is this: God is much bigger than you think.
Here is an image that I have found helpful. Our life is like a line on a piece of paper. Each sin and mistake we make in life bends and twists the line somewhat: sometimes curving it to the left, sometimes to the right. We imagine that God’s will is a straight line. We think in terms of lines, as though God were a line and God’s will could only be found on that ideal straight line. But God is not a line on the paper, God is the paper. God’s will encounters the squiggly line of our life no matter where on the paper we find ourselves. A murderer in prison, a holy monk on a mountain, a mother with young children, a business person trying to make payroll: right now, you can drink the cup the Father is giving you. You can offer your whole life to God. You can pray and love in whatever ways are possible for you now, where you are.
The ideal does not exist, not in this life. There are only our lives, lives that are shaped outwardly by circumstances mostly out of our control, but shaped inwardly by the God who is everywhere present and filling all things.