Nov 30, 2015
Forget Balance. Get Rhythm.
Pastor and author Steve Lutz writes about rhythm as an alternative to your work-life balance.
Editor’s note: We’re bringing back this classic from Steve to help prepare collegiate leaders for what is a slow season for direct ministry to students. Embrace the slow tempo of college ministry during the holidays. Press into Christ and enjoy your family time.
You’ve heard people say it. Maybe you’ve even said it yourself. “I need more balance in my life.” Work-life balance. Family and friends balance. Nutritious food and food that actually tastes good balance. But balance seems awfully hard to come by, so a lot of us beat ourselves up about not having balance, as if we need something more to feel guilty about.
Balance is unattainable
Two problems I have with balance is that it’s unattainable and its certainly not sustainable. I can try standing on one leg, and can persist in doing that for a few minutes. But I can’t do it forever, and I can’t do many other things while I’m balancing on one leg. Balance is the pursuit of a static state in a world that insists on continuing to move. The moment you think you have balance, something comes along to disturb it.
Secondly, and this is far more significant, is that I don’t see balance in the Bible. In fact, I see a lot of “unbalanced” people, people who are sold out, sacrificing everything, and stepping out in faith. Starting with Jesus! Jesus frequently worked all day teaching and healing and walking, and then pulled all-nighters talking to his father. He said and did radical things every day. He commanded the attention of thousands and spoke truth to power. But he didn’t even have a home. Was he balanced? No! And neither was Paul, or Peter, or Abraham, or Moses, or David, or pretty much any biblical hero you can think of. No, they were decidedly unbalanced, to their great gain.
I don’t think balance is biblical—it’s more of a Zen Buddhist, Star Wars, Phil Jackson kind of philosophy. The pursuit of balance ultimately inflicts guilt on us for failing to achieve or maintain it, and enslaves us through endlessly trying to achieve it. If you want balance, go hang out with Yoda and the Force. But if you want freedom, follow Jesus and the biblical rhythms of work and rest.
When you live your life in rhythm, there will be times when you have to give yourself to something over and above. Are you balanced when you’re starting a business, or studying for the bar exam, or finishing up your thesis, or caring for a newborn? No, of course not! You are unbalanced with a purpose–AS YOU SHOULD BE! Those things demand a high level of commitment for a season. “Oh no, I’m unbalanced!” That’s right! So rhythm says you don’t live there, but that you do what you need for a time, then you move on! You work hard, and then you rest. You don’t guilt yourself about “balance” then! But you do make sure you fall into God-given rhythms.
God gives us rhythms
Biblically, God gives us rhythms, rhythms that are part of how we’re made, how we’re designed. All Creation is in rhythms of work, then rest. Think about it: the earth rests, in its seasons. Animals rest when they hibernate. And humans, above all, are meant to work and rest in rhythms. We do this in the rhythms of our day (day/night), our week (work 6 days/rest 1), our year (take vacations and holidays), and even our lifetimes.
In the Old Testament, we read about multiple feasts and festivals spread throughout the Jewish year, some for weeks at a time. We read not only about Sabbath days, but Sabbath years. Doesn’t that sound like something you’d like? The rhythms of rest are good. In the Gospel, we get the ultimate rest: the rest of knowing that Jesus has achieved for us what we could never achieve on our own. Through Jesus we’ve attained salvation, righteousness, a right relationship with God, and all that we need. Our balance could never do that. But the Gospel can. Biblical rhythms force us to stop our doing, and to rest in what Jesus has done for us. That takes faith and trust, and that’s exactly why God wants us to rest – regularly and rhythmically.
Build rhythms of work and rest into your daily, weekly, monthly, and annual schedule, and “work hard to enter the rest” that we have through the Gospel (Hebrews 4:9). Because Jesus attained it for you, it’s far more lasting and powerful than any balance you could attempt on your own. So forget balance. Get rhythm.