Tag Archives: christian living

sustainability vs. balance

i’ve blogged some of my thoughts about our (misguided, i believe) cultural artifact of the pursuit of balance before (most completely in this 2-part article: part 1, part 2). but it came up again in a conversation with a youth worker recently, and i thought i’d add a bit.

a recap: we talk a lot about balance in the american church. we go so far as to claim it as a biblical value. entire books are filled with this notion; and it’s the centerpiece of many discipleship “programs”. i learned, and taught — for years, the navigator ‘wheel of discipleship’, which was all based on the notion that scripture, prayer, fellowship and witnessing need to be equal spokes in a wheel for a balanced life on the christian journey. with a ‘hub’ of christ, and a ‘tire’ of living it out, this all sounds — on the surface — good and logical. but that logical approach is the root of the problem: logic isn’t the root of the passionate life we’re offered, or called to live.

any time i talk or write about this, people push back that it’s only semantics; that, certainly, we need to watch for imbalances and compensate for them. but i simply don’t agree with that mental framing. the very metaphor of a balance is flawed when used to talk about a fulfilled life in the jesus way. balance, by its very definition, is about things being equal. even the navigator wheel is built on the metaphorical implication that those four spokes have to be equal lengths, that when one spoke is missing, the wheel collapses, and when one spoke is shorter than the other (this is where the balance metaphor breaks down, i think), we live a lopsided life.

but let’s be honest here — we all know those parts aren’t equal in the real world. and, i’m not sure they should be (in fact, i don’t think they should be). for example: for someone with a passion for and gift of intercession, i would expect that the prayer spoke would be longer than some of the others. of course, the other spokes should still be present — but that doesn’t mean they’re equal.

and, stepping out of the wheel, we usually use balance as a metaphor for how our time is spent. i agree with the notion that some forms of imbalance can be problematic (the youth pastor who thinks he needs to work 70 hours a week, causing his family life and his own soul to suffer). but the implicit inference of ‘equal parts’ doesn’t take into account so many truly biblical realities: my unique wiring, my personality, my passions and interests, my gifting.

bottom line: the way we talk about balance is an artifact of a modern, scientific approach to the christian life. it’s more about sameness than it is about passionate living; it’s a reflection of an assembly line approach to spirituality.

so, what’s a better metaphor?

i think sustainability is a substantially better metaphor, and has plenty of cultural connectedness these days. we talk about sustainable food, sustainable business approaches, and sustainable forestry. and we need to talk about the sustainable life, not the balanced life.

a sustainable life will look very different for me than it will for you, because of our god-given uniquenesses. my life would be completely unsustainable for my wife, for example, who is wired and gifted much differently than i am.

when we use sustainability as a metaphor for healthy christian living, we can identify those aspects that threaten sustainability or nurture sustainability. while some of the threats to sustainability are fairly universal, others are more personalized. same with those nurturing aspects. and sustainability provides space for seasons — when life is intensified or relaxed, as part of a rhythm that works over time.

so the questions to ask shift from ‘is everything equal in my life?’ to ‘is this way of living providing me, over time, the life i was designed for?’ and, if the answer to that question is no, then we take a deep look, in a prayer of examen sort of way, at those aspects that are life-stealing, moving toward those things that are live-giving. all of this, as i wrote in those earlier posts, needs to be tied off to our values.

– is the pace of my life sustainable? what will suffer if i maintain this pace?
– are the ways i use my time, energy and focus adding to sustainability or cancerous to sustainability?
– what aspects of the way i use my time, energy and focus nurture my life in a sustainable direction? how can i give those aspects more room to breathe?
– what aspects of the way i use my time, energy and focus bog me down or tear away at my desire to live sustainably? how i can rid myself, or at least decrease, those aspects?
– who can i ask to speak into this, with potentially painful honesty, about my life?
– where do i need the work of the holy spirit in my life to bring transformation that will align me with my unique god-intended way of living?

the implications of joining up with the kingdom of god

in our dcla program planning meetings, we had a very interesting theological discussion. it actually surfaced out of our opening time of prayer, when we first gathered. and it continued, in one form or another (serious dialogue, childish teasing) for the three days we were meeting.

several people joined in, but it was primarily one other guy (a good friend, whom i love dearly) and me who were strongly disagreeing.

now, i’m going to lay it out here, to the best of my ability, and would love to hear input, feedback and response. i say “to the best of my ability”, because i’m sure i will, to some extent, create a caricature of both his input (in a negative way) and my own input (in a positive way).

also, i should say, it was a really fun disagreement, healthy dialogue, and made us both wrestle quite a bit (and, i think, the others in the room).


it started when he prayed something like, “God, we know you’re going to do what you’re going to do, and we are unnecessary to your plans….”

after the prayer, we started talking about the dcla content, and i interjected that i’d like to have a bit of a discussion about our perspectives on the implications of us joining up with the active work of god in the world, because that’s a big theme of the dcla content we’re developing. i asked my friend to restate and unpack what he’d prayed. he explained that he used to be driven by obligation and guilt, but that he doesn’t see god that way anymore (good so far). he said he’s so deeply come to believe in the sovereignty of god (still good) and the idea that god doesn’t “need” us (yup, still good) that he believes god will accomplish what god is going to do in the world whether we join god in this work or not (hmmm).

we had a bunch of discussion about the difference between being guilted into obedience and viewing joining god’s kingdom work as an opportunity, or invitation. all good. he explained that he thinks the reason for us to live in a kingdom way is that it brings congruency to our lives, as we live into the way we were created to live (i’m great with that, but it brought a nagging question).

i wondered, “does that mean you think we don’t actually play a role in adding to the work of the kingdom?” “no,” he said, and went on to share this illustration:

when his daughter was 2, he was doing some work in her room. and he noticed that she was standing off to the side, mimicking his movements. he thought this was sweet. then, he started painting some trim work, and she wanted to paint also. he said, “no honey, you’re a little kid, and painting is adult work.” she started crying, and his wife piped in, “just let her paint.” so he gave her a little brush, and a little bowl of paint, and she went to it, messily painting a small section of the wall. he kept telling her what a great job she was doing. he moved to a roller, and gave her a tiny roller also. while continuing to tell her what a wonderful job she was doing, he painted over the portion she had painted, so the end result was what he had always planned.

he said that this is what god does with us.

i tried to restrain myself, but said something like, “that’s horrible! it’s manipulative and a lie!” i went on, “i was hoping you were going to say, ‘when i got to the section she’d painted, i painted around it, framing it. it wasn’t as smooth as the parts i’d painted, but it was her contribution to the plan i already had to paint the wall. the wall was going to get painted either way, but i allowed her to contribute. AND, the wonderful thing is that, for years after that, we cherished that little less-than-perfect portion she painted, which made the wall something our family valued even more.”

my point is: while i agree that our joining up with god’s kingdom isn’t about guilt or manipulation or “duty”, i think that god invites us — gives us the opportunity — to participate in god’s kingdom work in a way that implicates the outcome. this doesn’t change the idea that god is sovereign, or that god is capable of doing what god intends to do. but we are — i believe — really and actually participating in the outcome. in other words, i think we are given the opportunity to play a participative role that changes the outcome, or, at least, becomes a part of the outcome.

we didn’t come to agreement on this, but it was a great and spirited dialogue.

so, what do you think? am i nuts? am i a heretic?