One of the greatest high wire artists in history was Charles Blondin, also known as “The Great Blondin.” Beginning in 1859, he walked across the Niagara Falls gorge on numerous occasions. On one of these, he stopped midway to cook and eat an omelet! On others, he did it blindfolded, on stilts, pushing a wheelbarrow, or carrying his manager on his back.
I suspect for some of us, the quest for a “balanced” life feels much like this. Sometimes we try to do all of Blondin’s feats at once. We try to balance our spiritual life with family responsibilities, professional responsibilities with Christian community, performance expectations with good self care. We feel pretty wobbly sometimes. Sometimes we jettison one or more aspects of life to maintain our equilibrium. And sometimes we just take a tumble–hopefully into a safety net!
I’d like to suggest a different image for the balanced life, that of a spacious path. While it’s possible to leave the path or even get lost in the woods or a bog, there are a number of reasons this needn’t ever happen.
The path is spacious enough for Jesus to accompany us. I love the Message translation of Matthew 11:28-30:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
This is not a path you need to walk single file, trying to keep up with Jesus. Other translations say “take my yoke upon you,” an image of a crosspiece, across the necks of two animals, allowing them to pull a cart or plow together. Jesus offers real rest, not from our work but in it, both sharing the load and setting the pace, not hurried or forced but “the unforced rhythm of grace.”
The path is spacious enough to stop and rest when needed. Sabbath is Jesus invitation to stop one day a week just to rest and enjoy him, others, and all his good gifts. We worry that we will get run over by others in their 24/7 life. Sabbath is an act of trust that in six days of work we will accomplish all that’s needed and that God is at work when we are not.
The path is spacious enough for others to walk with us. I’m struck by the fact that Jesus did not send people out alone. Paul, in his missionary journeys, always had travel companions, and often, they listened to God together when they decided where to go next (cf. Acts 13:1-3; 16:6-10). God helps balance our lives and keep us on his path with others.
The path is spacious enough to allow us to walk at our own best pace. Balance need not look the same for all of us. Jesus may lead us more to one side than others. Some may be more fleet of foot than we are. Because of our different gifts, we will do different things along the path. All that matters is being on the path with Jesus.
While the “balanced” life is not one of keeping a number of different priorities precisely distributed as we walk a high wire, there are some practices that I might commend for our walk on the spacious path:
- Walking with Jesus: beginning our day listening and talking to Jesus about it, using “breath prayers” as we move from one thing to another to stay present and in step with Jesus, and reviewing our day with both thanks and confession as we surrender ourselves to Him in sleep.
- Walking in unforced rhythms of grace in rest and work: observing sabbaths, and taking daily time for the self-care that allows us to love Jesus with all our being.
- Walking with other believers: recognizing the gifts of partners and wider communities, including those unlike us in age, gender, ethnicity, ability, education, and material wealth.
- Walking with Jesus in our work: Reminding ourselves that whatever we do is “for him” and “with him.” Jesus doesn’t wait for us in the parking lot but joins us as we teach, experiment, and even go to committee meetings.
I love walking on spacious paths. It is fun to anticipate what I’ll see around the next bend. It is a joy to know that I never walk alone and that Jesus knows how the path will bring each of us home. And who knows–perhaps I will see you on the path–there’s room enough for us both!
About the author:
Bob Trube is Associate Director of Faculty Ministry and Director of the Emerging Scholars Network. He blogs on books regularly at bobonbooks.com. He resides in Columbus, Ohio, with Marilyn and enjoys reading, gardening, choral singing, and plein air painting.