I’ve been thinking about balance lately. As a missionary, I remember thinking mission life was difficult and demanding. It was. (It was also really rewarding, but that’s another topic.) Not long after returning home I found that as hard as missionary life was, “civilian” life was harder. I realized I had been blessed with a unique and precious opportunity: two years of my life I could dedicate to one very specific task. I didn’t appreciate how blissful that actually was until I came home and felt the demands of school, work, leisure, social, family, and church life all bearing down on me at once. Suddenly I had vastly different choices for how to spend my time. The tug-o-war only increased with the addition of marriage, children, and career. Regardless of how good we are at simplifying, the wide variety of demands on our time and attention are a hallmark of modern life.
I’ve long since had an almost compulsive desire to achieve balance amongst all these elements of life, and I’ve noticed the same desire in others. Almost by nature we strive for equilibrium. it just feels right; everything tucked into its proper place and receiving its proper due. The problem with striving for balance in daily life is that as far as I can tell, it’s pretty much impossible. Some try day after day after day to achieve perfect balance, only to repeatedly feel like this is the result, "Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting” (Daniel 5:27). Remember the movie A Knights Tale? Some members of the church give themselves the mental and emotional version of this berating at the end of every day. (warning, the bad guy punches the good guy a couple times in this clip. But it illustrates the point pretty well!)
I’ve found that frustration comes from unmet expectations, and I began to wonder if I need to stop expecting a balanced daily life. I turned to the scriptures to see what they have to say. First I found that “balance” in the context I’m describing does not appear to be a scriptural concept. Neither the Book of Mormon nor the Doctrine and Covenants use the word. The New Testament only says it once, and while the Old Testament uses it 17 times, all 18 biblical uses of the word are referring to an actual balance, the ancient devices used for weighing money and products. Okay, what about balance’s beloved cousin Moderation? We hear about moderation in all things, right? We love this idea! Nope. Moderation only appears once. In fact, Elder Oaks once said, "moderation is not a virtue" and "moderation is not the answer." Frankly, the scriptures call for extreme measures far more often than they call for balance. For example:
To be fair, balance is often discussed by modern prophets. Elder Ballard gave a talk on balance in 1987. President Packer spoke about it in 1998, and Elder Cook spoke of it in his October 2014 talk. It comes up regularly in General Conference and there’s even an article about balance by Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson on the Church news homepage as I write. But I’ve noticed that even when they use the word balance, they often teach something else: Order and priority.
Consider Mosiah 4:27. King Benjamin teaches:
And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order ; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.
In fact, if you want to explore a scriptural concept, give “order” a little search. Now there’s a concept that is fundamental to Heavenly Father's plan. Here are a few to get you started:
- JST, Genesis 14:28
- Moses 6:67
- Job 10:22
- Titus 1:5
- 1 Corinthians 14:40
- Alma 6:4
- Moroni 9:18
- D&C 93:43
- D&C 88:119
At first, I thought balance was a complete illusion. A mirage. Something which we could ever search for and never obtain. But after for more thought, I believe balance can be achieved, but it’s better treated as an outcome; the result of proper choice, rather than the choice itself. I’m not saying we should ban the word or anything like that. I'm not calling for a revolution. But I do propose loosening the shackles of the belief that if we’re “doing it right” the elements of our lives will fall into an evenly distributed, pristine day to day balance.
Rather than trying to live a balanced life, I’ve set a goal to follow King Benjamin’s counsel. To be wise with my time, do things in proper order, and be diligent without running faster than I have strength. When we do things in proper order, our lives often do strike a balance, but the balance is more nuanced than we might appreciate. Some things balance out day to day, but the major elements of our lives usually don’t. Sometimes they don’t even balance out weekly. I’ve found that if I’m doing the most important things at the right time, different parts of my life get different levels of emphasis at different times. For example, one week I might need to spend more time at work. Another week might see me giving my family more attention, and still another I might spend a lot of time on my calling. Some weeks I have no time to relax or to exercise, and others I’m able to do it ever day.
This pattern is even true from year to year. Two examples from our home, (Please note these are just examples from our experience, and not commentary on how anyone else should use their time.)
1. My wife Lisa is a talented artist who has passed up many opportunities to further her career because our three young children consume the bulk of her time. She very rarely sees a “balanced” day. Maybe one day in the future her career will get more of her time. Should she feel frustrated because she spends most of her time on her children? I don’t think so.
2. As a bishop, I spend a lot of time with my calling. I’m gone a couple nights a week and all day Sunday. Other demands are randomly peppered into my day; a text while I’m playing with my kids, or a phone call while I’m doing yard work. It just takes time. Am I out of balance? Maybe. But I will not have this opportunity forever. I trust that it’s proper right now to spend a little more time on my calling than I might otherwise.
If you look at our lives in terms of day to day balance, they may look like failures. But if you broaden your view, these things often balance out over months, years and lifetimes. And if not? The Lord never asked me to be balanced. He asked me to trust and obey him (Proverbs 3:5-6). Should I worry about how balanced my life is if I’m doing what I know he wants me to do? As a Bishop at 22, a Mission President at 33, and an Apostle at 36, it would be very easy to say that Thomas S. Monson has lived an unbalanced life. Does he regret it?
When we focus on doing what the Lord wants us to do at any given time, we don’t have to worry about balance. The Spirit will help us know how to spend our time. The perpetual risk in all of this is what we often call “getting out of balance,” but I think it’s really what Elder Oaks would call misplaced priorities. This is one of life's great challenges. But The beauty of focusing on proper order and priorities is that it frees us from the expectation of striking constant balance and gives us the freedom to do the things that matter most when they matter most.
And that’s why I'm trying to worry less about living a balanced life. What do you think? Am I off my rocker? As always, love to hear your thoughts.