A few years ago, I subscribed to a wonderful magazine (now defunct, unfortunately) called Life@Work Journal. The magazine was a Christian publication geared towards believers in the marketplace. Each issue would focus on a particular subject. One of the most memorable issues was the issue on balance.
In an article entitled "Juggling Life" (Life@Work Journal, November/December 2000), authors Thomas Addington and Steven Graves contend that we operate on an incorrect definition of balance based on ranking priorities of God, family, church, work and leisure. They contend that "balance is the ability to continually recognize and juggle the multidimensional assignments and opportunities of life". When we feel overwhelmed or stressed out because there isn't enough time to do everything on our "to do list" it's because our life is out of balance.
They go on to explain that balance is not a static issue. In other words, it is something we have to constantly strive towards. We also cannot do it alone as we each have blind spots that prevent us from seeing the total picture. As a result, we need accountability from family, friends, business associates, fellow church members, and others to help us see where we are out of balance.
They also contend that each individual has five multidimensions of life: family, community, church, work, and self. Each of these dimensions competes for our attention and energy. These are the balls that we have to juggle. Within each of these dimensions are assignments and opportunities.
An assignment is "something that we have no control over or that we cannot say no to without violating a Scriptural command or principle". For example, I am a father and husband. I'm also the breadwinner for my family. As a believer, I also must be involved in a church. These are all assignments that I have been given. Assignments are not necessarily the same for every person.
Opportunities, on the other hand, are optional items. They are things that I can choose to do or not to do. Sometimes an opportunity can help someone fufill an assignment. For example, if I go to a parenting conference it should help me be a better father. However, an opportunity can become a problem if it interferes with my ability to fufill my assignments. A good example would be spending so much time watching football on television that it takes away time I should be spending with my family. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons I don't spend much time watching sports anymore is because it takes too much time away from my wife and children.
When my wife and I were first married we moved to suburban Chicago. While we were there I got involved in a golf league with some of the guys at work. At least every other Saturday (and sometimes more often) I would be off playing golf with the guys at work and leaving my wife at home alone. Although it was a great opportunity, my marriage suffered because I was not devoting time to my wife and our marriage the way that I should have.
Juggling assignments and opportunities is not easy. It requires constantly evaluating where time and energy are being spent. It also takes a willingness to sacrifice my own desires in order to meet the needs of my family.
My wife once did this in a very practical way by taking Post-It notes and putting up on the closet doors everything she was doing. She started by putting every one of those notes on the left side of the doors. Then she would move the notes over to the right that represented the opportunities she was involved in. Once she was finished she realized she was involved in far too many opportunities and it was interfering with her assignments as a wife and mother. After praying over those opportunities for a number of days she decided to make some changes.
The bottom line is this: in order to keep our lives in balance we must first grasp what assignments God has given us. Then each activity we are involved in needs to be examined closely. We should be asking ourselves whether the opportunities we are pursuing are interfering with our assignments. If an opportunity is keeping us from completing our assignments then it's an opportunity we don't need to pursue.