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An Ode to Imbalance


In college my friend Waylon had a bumper sticker plastered to his car declaring normal people worry me.  Upon reading this I knew I’d found a kindred spirit and we went on to form a deep friendship.  10 years later and I’ve come to see a need for an updated version.  Something more appropriate for the church parking lot or, if an equestrian bumper could be fashioned, the back end of Jesus’ donkey. Balanced People Worry Me.

This need for an update comes in response to a phrase we are all familiar with: it’s a balance. Usually it arrives on the heels of some discussion between work and faith, or ministry vs. family, etc.  Often dropped at the exact moment in a conversation when it is greatly apparent neither of us have the answer, but more importantly, unwilling to pursue it further. Like all great Christianese statements, it is one I am terribly guilty of promoting.

But about a year ago, I felt a distaste arise within me whenever I caught the phrase lobbed about in conversations.  The kind of metallic bitterness that occurs when you back down from a ski jump and go home empty.  Not utter worthlessness, but just that feeling of facing a challenge and blinking.

Like too many theological convictions, this one began in the gut and left me the intellectual task of checking scripture.  What does the bible say about balance?  “______”.  Nothing.  A word search of the old and new testament reveals a half dozen occurrences, but none in regards to a man’s actions.  On the contrary, the breadth of scripture, especially the new testament, seems to call for an unbelievably radical life.  And more than just a call, the description of the apostle’s lives would hardly fit into anyone’s definition of balanced.

To be fair, when most of us use the word balance, we’re trying to appreciate the difficult act of balancing our resources.  Whether time, money or energy, we’re desiring a holy equilibrium between several factors.  And it is here the word becomes so damaging.  Because balance speaks nothing of quantity; it speaks nothing of degree, or passion or sacrifice.  It speaks only of relativity.

Two goals pursued with equally dismal effort still result in perfect balance. If I have a desolate prayer life, but balance it with an equally numb ministry, my precious symmetry is still retained.  Like a scale with two feathers or another with two gold bars.  In a very real way then, a call to a balanced Christian life is nothing but a bold call to mediocrity.

Jesus provides a very different call.  There is no pithy debate about balance and ratios and percentages or other pseudo corporate terms.  He simply lays out His life as the severest sacrifice, sends the Holy Spirit and calls us all to do the same.  And the day that we forget the explosiveness of this call, is the same moment we acquiesce to our fear and timidity and call it balance.


Comment from Katie Mallory
Time October 19, 2010 at 6:17 pm

It seems like the whole idea of “balance” has come from the desire to have it all in the modern busy life where we all have so many different responsibilities, hobbies, interests, obligations, resources, passions, etc. It seems like to be “balanced” is the goal to “have it all.” But you’re right, Jesus called us to be radical. So what does that look like in these times? What does it look like to lay down our lives for others and to consider others better than ourselves? It doesn’t seem that a “balanced life” could do that. Maybe its about living intentionally and prioritizing the right things. Good food for thought!

Comment from Padre
Time October 20, 2010 at 12:35 pm

“Moderation in all things” seems to be a quote usually given by folks uneasy with a committment of faith beyond a tidy compartmentalized fraction of their many interests. Yet we keep hearing unending statements from TV personalities about their “passion” for everything except matters of faith. Granted, we’ve all seen plenty of misguided passion by religious fanatics, but somehow Jesus and his early followers managed to be extremely passionate about their faith and yet “enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:47). All the people, that is, except those who saw their faith as a threat and missed the whole point of Jesus’ mission.
A quote I just found is “Moderation in temper is always a virtue; but moderation in principle is always a vice.” (Thomas Paine).
Thanks for the reminder.

Comment from David Mallory
Time November 6, 2010 at 1:43 pm

It seems to me that balance is more of a description of the end result of following God than something we are able to create ourselves. We are not to balance giving ourselves to God with our own desires, if we give ourselves completely to God our greatest desires are fulfilled. Another way of looking at this, though, is that the goal is to replace our imbalanced desires with God’s perfectly balanced will. Jesus seems to have balanced his own time on earth between his own prayer, contemplation or meditation with time teaching and preaching. He could have just gone off into the desert and never taught, he could have also only taught and never spent time on his own. Jesus slept, ate, drank, and went to weddings at times and fasted and went into the dessert at other times. He balanced teaching the disciples with pointing at them. I do agree though that is seems that the way balance is used most often is wrong and usually a cop-out, but this is also true of terms like love and righteousness. Most of our attempts at balance are of the tower of Babel variety, attempts to get life to conform to our own sense of balance based on our own ideas and likes rather than giving ourselves up to God’s balance. It is impossible to balance your will against God’s. We shouldn’t try to find a balance between sin and righteousness or selfishness and selflessness. That would be like trying to balance balance with imbalance and this just becomes sill rhetoric. We are to give ourselves completely into the positive (balanced) side of these opposites. To do this, though, seems to require the wisdom part of which contains balance. As is says in Proverbs 4:26: “Keep straight the path of your feet, and all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.” Maybe Jesus lived a perfectly balanced life, it just looks radical to our unbalanced selves.

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