the seduction of balance, part 1

i wrote an article on balance for the journal of student ministries a number of months ago, and have been waiting an appropriate time before i can post it here also. seems it’s been long enough. so, here’s part one:

the seduction of balance

When the editors of The Journal of Student Ministries asked me to write on the subject of balance, my first thought was that I could summarize everything I know about balance in a short, six-word sentence: I don’t have a freakin’ clue. Of course, not being sure if they’d allow me to use the word “freakin’,” I realized I would be taking the risk of having my little sentence shortened to five words.

But then, I put things in perspective. In order to write about balance, I should have some significant experience with the polar opposite: unbalance. Based on that qualification, there are very few who are more qualified to write on this subject.

I have had a challenging relationship with balance for most of my life. Though I long for balance, she eludes me (not unlike most of the girls in high school). And as the responsibilities, pressures, and stresses of my life have increased, balance has increased her elusiveness, almost to the point of scorn. I don’t like her; she’s fickle, condemning, distant, and judgmental. And she’s a tease—man, she is such a tease.

So for a number of years, I simply discarded the quest for her altogether.

Theologizing Balance

There was a time when I longed for balance. I was even sure it was a spiritual, holy thing. Like many of us, I first picked up the “spiritualization” of balance in Sunday school. Lessons like “everything in moderation” made their way into my juvenile theological framework. I saw that unique people were treated with suspicion (at best) or contempt (at worst), and that the social gravity in church always moved toward the center or “normal.”

Of course, like everything else in church, this gravitational push toward center (not just in social structures, but in everything: theology, musical style, youth ministry programming, and strength of coffee) got spiritualized. “God likes normal” was the implied message. God likes the center of the normal distribution (the bell curve), except when it came to inventing those wacky platypuses (Just look at God’s playfulness!).

That church-lady fear of uniqueness became a deep fondness for “normal,” and subsequently got spiritualized into a godly value; then eventually—as much tends to do—it became a system. Case in point (and this is just one of many cases in point that could be made, and not a particular slam on this wonderful organization): the Navigator Wheel of Discipleship.

I was taught the Navigator’s balance wheel model is a teenager, and I subsequently used it to train my own student leadership team. It’s a pretty tool. And like many clean and easy to grasp tools, it’s seductive: It’s apparent logic makes it sound so right.

The Navigator Wheel of Discipleship has a hub of Christ, with four spokes: Scripture, Fellowship, Prayer, and Witnessing. The tire—or, outside edge— is the Obedient Christian life. It was easy for me to explain to my student leaders why all four spokes were necessary. They’d all ridden a bike—and they knew what would occur if a wheel was missing a spoke. They could quickly deduce the “it doesn’t work right” ride of a wheel with one spoke shorter than the others. Balance, in this slick little model, makes perfect and complete sense.

The problem is that the model is built on a Western church set of values, not a scriptural set of values (of course, the other problem was that I was also teaching a value set I didn’t live—but that’s another story). I dare anyone to look at the life of Christ and say that balance was a key value.

Sure, Jesus had fellowship. Sure, Jesus pulled away for prayer (great lessons in those actions, to be sure). But Jesus portrays a life full of grace that isn’t balanced at all, but rather full of extravagance. Jesus displayed passion for the lost, poor, and oppressed in abundance. And there’s nothing balanced about a shepherd who leaves the flock for one sheep (a sheep who is far outside the bell curve). The Kingdom of God is one of excess: In grace, in love, in forgiveness. The value system of God is not about fairness and balance, which is very good news for us—if it were, you and I would be screwed!

Teeter-Totter Balance

A number of years ago, my friend, Dr. Kara Powell asked me how I found balance in my life. I responded that, as a visual person, I tend to think of balance as a teeter-totter. And, like any good fulcrum, the only time I really experience balance is when I’m passing it on the journey from one unbalance to another.

Whether or not you agree, you have to admit that there’s some truth in it. None of us is truly balanced. We all bring our passions, biases, perspectives, experiences, priorities, choices, responsibilities, and even sin to our little façades of balance. We all have lopsided wheels.

in part 2 (tomorrow), “discipleship as edge-craft”, “values vs. balance”, and the conclusion, “cautiously re-embracing balance”…

9 thoughts on “the seduction of balance, part 1”

  1. I understand what you are saying, man. I have a great dislike for the concept balance. At least in my life, it never makes sense. I always fail at obtaining it. Maybe it’s because balance is about math. You take away from one and give it to the other. I really prefer the concept of harmony. Harmony is not about math, but about creating beauty with what you have. Also, it seems like balance is not only too western, but too self-dependent. It kind of takes God out of the equation.

  2. i have been loving the things i find on your blog lately marko! (i usually like it but the posts lately seem right up my alley) balance should almost never be the goal, but living a life according to the passions and gifts that God has given us. Glenn Beck is a conservative radio host who says that a balanced life is pretty much unattainable but that we should seek an integrated life, much like the life we see Jesus living in scripture. looking forward to part two.

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  4. My spiritual director told me to lose the term “balance” because I would chase after it like the Holy Grail…(perfectionist that I am). He said he would prefer I use the term “healthy tensions”…since I will always be in tension. If I am doing ministry well, I will likely be short changing my family. If I am spending adequate time with my family, I (or others) will feel like I am cheating the church. He concluded that we always remain in some tension (example: in the world, not OF the world)

    I asked my director when these tensions within me will stop–he siad a half hour after they lay my cold body in the ground!

    He shared we should strive to be healthier in those tensions.

    I smile every time I hear Billy Joel’s “I Go to Extremes.”


  5. Balance, what is that? I don’t think it is attainable. I agree with Mike’s spiritual director, it is like the holy grail, not attainable. It doesn’t seem that Jesus had balance. With that said, I believe that what Jesus had was boundaries. He knew when to say “no,” without guilt. He knew when to say that he needed time for himself. He knew when to ask for others(his disciples) to do ministry. Had I learned that, back in the day, life would be different now, at least I think it would be.

  6. Thanks, I really needed that!!! As a free-spirit I have so often struggled with thinking that there is something wrong with me in a world of people who do ministry analytically!!! I don’t always fit in well with the church-lady balance model. I am six kinds of passion heading in one direction or another at a time trying to follow God’s leading in my life. Thanks for letting me know it might just be ok to be who God made me to be!!!

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