How to Balance in a Tilting World

Balance – from walking to biking to skiing, in art and cooking and even finances, we are continually balancing, either instinctively or using skills we’ve learned and don’t often think about. Last week’s post reminded us of some of those skills, the point being that life has already taught us how to balance when our world tilts – a relationship crumbles, a job or career changes or ends, hatred comes out of the shadows and marches down the streets – and the ground seems to shift underneath us. We’re left trying to keep – or regain – our balance emotionally.

So how has life taught us to balance? Here are the skills from last week’s post, summed up as a neat and tidy list of life principles, ways to keep or regain balance in a tilting world.

  • No one can tell us when we’re balanced. We sense it. Our center of balance is likely to be different from our neighbor’s.
  • Pay attention.
  • Stay flexible, shifting as needed to stay centered.
  • Slow down if you need to.
  • Hold onto something (or someone) if you need to.
  • If you have a choice in matters, choose people, places, things, and activities for what they can contribute to your wholeness and integrity and for what you can contribute to theirs.
  • That said, appreciate and incorporate variety. We can be asymmetrical (not quite fitting someone else’s idea of perfection) and still be in balance.
  • Season life to taste, but try not to lose your distinctiveness.
  • Give your life the time to simmer and mature. Be patient with yourself. It takes practice to be able to keep our balance during the unexpected ways that life tilts.
  • We need unfilled, open areas – negative spaces – in our schedules. Time to pause. It’s worth scheduling that time on our calendars. In other words, keep up with the deposits and withdrawals on your time, your energy, your spirit. When you’re getting depleted, it’s time to fill up. When you’re full to overflowing, be grateful and let it spill out.

Balance is, of course, a sign of emotional and mental health. But we don’t often think of balance as a sign of spiritual health. In fact, many of us were taught, in strictly stark religious terms, that there cannot be a balance, spiritually speaking. There’s heaven vs. hell, right vs. wrong, conservative vs. liberal, good vs. evil, faith vs. doubt. We’re either at one end of the scale or the other. There is no in-between, because that’s a lukewarm position, and lukewarm gets spewed out (Revelation 3:16). So there’s no compromise, no tolerating other viewpoints, no trying to balance the scale. And yet . . .

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Balance. Heavens and earth, light and dark, evening and morning, above and below, water and land, tall plants and short, flying animals and diggers, male and female. “And God saw that it was good.” Delight, pleasure, generosity – it all started with balance.

It’s interesting to note that balance is one meaning of the Greek word prautes, which is often translated meek or gentle in the Bible. In ancient times, prautes implied a balance, for example between friendliness and strength or between leniency and sternness. One lexicographer of ancient languages says, “For Aristotle [prautes] is a mean (a midpoint) between bad temper and spineless incompetence, between extreme anger and indifference.” If we think of meek in the sense of balance, it gives fresh meaning to some familiar scriptures.

“Blessed are the balanced, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). In other words, blessed are those who are neither bad tempered nor spinelessly incompetent, neither extremely angry nor indifferent.

“See, your king comes to you, balanced and riding on a donkey . . .” (Matthew 21:5). This has nothing to do, of course, with balancing on the back of a donkey and everything to do with being the type of king who fit Aristotle’s definition of balance, being neither bad-tempered nor a spineless incompetent.

“By the balance and forbearance of Christ, I appeal to you – I, Paul, who am ‘timid’ when face to face, but ‘bold’ when away!” (2 Corinthians 10:1). Forbearance, according to Webster’s, means refraining from enforcing something like a debt, right, or obligation. It’s interesting that Paul asks for balance after being accused of two opposites: timidity and boldness.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, balance, and self-control” (Galatians 5:23).

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the balance that comes from wisdom” (James 3:13). When I read this, I think of the opening lines from Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem If:   “If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you . . . you’ll be a Man, my son!” In other words, you’ll be mature if you can remain balanced.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am balanced and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30). Jesus, trained to be a carpenter, would have learned how to make yokes. “My yoke is chrestos,” he says. Chrestos means well-fitting. A yoke has to balance in order to fit well.

An open-hearted faith is always finding its balance. Next week’s post will focus on what I consider the most important balance we can find in our faith.

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Text © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

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