Balance is the maintenance of two or more elements in a system within an acceptable range of normal which keeps every element in correct proportion, so that the functions of the system as a whole can be performed optimally.
I already looked at how this definition is supported by the chemical functioning inside our bodies. Let’s look at a more subjective system: how we use our time. (I was interested to see that this was the only context in which my friends commented on my Facebook quote.) Now there are always 24 hours in a day. Nobody gets any more than that. We can divide those hours into minutes or seconds, but everyone gets the same number. The simplest division we can make is into waking and sleeping. How many of us would insist on 12 hours of sleep per night? For most of us, most of the time, that much sleep would be excessive. If we agree on a healthy range as 6.5 to 8 hours of sleep, we could say that we maintain a healthy balance of waking and sleeping if we are out of bed for about 2/3 of every 24-hour period. But that alone isn’t enough to determine balance in a meaningful way. How are we spending those waking hours?
We can simply split our waking hours into work and relaxation. Should there be eight hours of each? Is it possible? Yes. Is it desirable? That’s open to debate. Beyond that, into which column does one put hygiene, eating, travel time, home/car/yard maintenance, shopping, cooking? For some, these things might fall on the work side, but for others on the recreation end of the spectrum. We will spend differing amounts of time on each item–and even in the course of several days or weeks will probably not be utterly consistent in the time we spend in each category. Some weeks, shopping may take up a large amount of time–perhaps because a new home is being sought. The week of a party, perhaps cooking and cleaning take precedence. Not spending the same amount in each category of activity–nor even a consistent amount of time on one activity from week to week–doesn’t imply a lack of balance. Is my life functioning optimally? That’s the question. And it requires further definition.
It’s easy enough to define “optimal” in purely physical terms: the health of my body, the performance of my car, or the yield in my garden (because of the right balance of sun, moisture and fertilizer, soil, time and lack of predators/pests). These are fairly objective systems. But what about the quality of my life, the way I spend my time over a span of months or years? How do I define balance here? This is the ultimate context of Dr. Swenson’s book, and the one for which we are in most need of a definition.
One of the most valuable concepts he introduces in order to determine whether we are “in balance,” is the concept of “core priorities.” He uses the picture of orbit, and suggests that everything in our lives should be placed in orbit around our core priorities. Is my priority making money? Then working 12 hours a day is perhaps not out of balance for me. Is my stated priority family and relationships? A 12-hour work day isn’t going to help balance my life in favor of that priority, is it?
I want to go back to my working definition: When I say “optimal function of the system as a whole”, to what system am I referring? In this context, perhaps it is that my core priorities are being preserved or honored, and the implied goals of those priorities are being met. But I need more than an ambiguous “priority” and an implied goal, in order to really establish equilibrium.
If my priority is family, what I really need is an active verb to describe that priority, much the way an actor needs verbs to describe his character’s motivation. Perhaps it’s clearer to say, “My core priority is to maintain solid relationships with my family members, so that we communicate often, understand each other, spend regular quality time together and build common positive memories.” A specific and goal-oriented definition of each of my core priorities will make it much easier to determine whether the components of my life are in a range which will serve those priorities well.
One friend said, “Jesus did not live a balanced life.” But I say, Oh really? Jesus stated clearly that He had come to do His Father’s will. Every aspect of His earthly life served that purpose. Who are we to say it was out of balance? True, what we know of His life mainly falls into the last three years, the years of His public ministry. But that makes it relatively easy to evaluate them for balance, as we’ve defined it. So…did Jesus ignore His mission for days on end, playing video games instead? Did He neglect His prayer life? Did He take a sabbatical from teaching and never get back to it? Did He try to cram too many speaking engagements into His schedule and end up in bed with the flu for a week? Did He give Himself a nervous breakdown by trying to heal everyone who came to Him?
Jesus accomplished His stated purpose. And thus He is the example of a perfectly balanced life. But His is the only example.