John Alan Turner

Writer, Theologian, Consultant, Speaker, Teacher

Problems with My Balance

In my last post I told you that I somehow picked up the idea that balance was the key to life. Some of you chimed in and said you'd learned the same thing in the form of a well-known Greek maxim: All things in moderation. But there are some things you can't do in moderation. You can't experience a moderate amount of ecstasy. You can't be moderately heartbroken. You shouldn't be moderately involved in the lives of your children, and you can't moderately follow Jesus.

So, I've come up with a list of problems I have with the concept of balance.

First, it's difficult. Have you ever seriously tried to balance all the competing demands of life? Work and play, spouse and kids, prayer and study, solitude and service, family and career, evangelism and activism. I can never get it to balance out properly, and -- far too often -- my quest for balance leaves me an exhausted, stressed-out mess. Just because something is difficult, doesn't mean it shouldn't be done, but real balance isn't just difficult; it may be impossible.

Second, it's not really biblical. I remember having a conversation with Rick Duncan (Sr. Pastor of Cuyahoga Valley Church). I have a ton of respect for Rick. In fact, there was a time when I thought I might go up there to Cleveland and join the staff of the wonderful church he serves. But I remember talking to him about this quest for balance, and I was totally shocked when he suggested that the idea isn't biblical and reflects more of a suburbanite, comfortable, manageable lifestyle than anything we read about in the Bible. I have been to countless retreats and read dozens of articles in Christian magazines touting balance as the Holy Grail of the Christian life. He might as well have questioned the deity of Jesus!

But the more I thought about it, the more I began to suspect that my friend Rick was right. If you just go through a list of the great bastions of faith in the Bible -- say, Hebrews 11 -- you're not going to find many characters who are good examples of balance. Abel did not have a very diversified portfolio. All his eggs seemed to be in the one basket, leaving his brother to farm the land while he tended animals. Maybe he and his brother would have gotten along better if one of them had been more balanced in his interests. Noah built a nice boat but had some pretty serious dysfunction in his family. Abraham tried to balance his affection for his two sons and ended up alienating his one wife. Isaac didn't balance his affection between his two sons and ended up alienating his second son. Jacob. Joseph. Moses. Gideon. Samson. David.

Do any of these guys strike you as particularly balanced?

And then there are the folks in the New Testament, most notably Peter and Paul. Some of you suggested that Jesus was a good example of balance, but I'm not sure about that. He told a guy to go and sell everything he owned in order to follow him. He didn't have a wife or kids or a steady job, never bought a house of his own or did any of the things we normally associate with a well-balanced life. There was a certain rhythm to his life, but it looks more like shifting from one out-of-balance activity to another (plunging into a prolonged season of ministry and then suddenly withdrawing completely into solitude).

I have a few other problems with balance, but I don't want this post to get too much longer. For now, I'll close with a disclaimer and a few questions I'm noodling over.

DISCLAIMER: I am not advocating the pursuit of an unbalanced life. In our society, we often wear busyness as a badge of honor -- as if being overwhelmingly busy equals being important. Marginless living is the bane of our existence, and it leads to burnout, frustration and the loss of joy, peace, patience and a whole host of other things that ought to characterize the life of one who follows Jesus. I am merely suggesting that the pursuit of balance may not be as virtuous as we've been led to believe.

And that leads me to my questions for today: Why is balance such a big deal in Christian circles? Why do so many preachers and teachers and writers tout it as the cure-all, when it doesn't have much in the way of biblical support? And can you think of any potential dangers that may result from our desire for balance?