“Balance.” Image by Hans Splinter via Flickr; licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.
A few years ago, I gave up on the idea of balance. Balance is a myth.1 It is simply not possible to keep the important things in your life in perfect balance every day, all the time. At the same time, maintaining balance has become another mark of achievement in ministry. “Look at how well she is able to balance her personal life and the demands of the church! How does she do it all?” Have we ever stopped to think about how absurd that sounds? How ridiculous that really is in real life? Do you ever wonder that if people actually got a glimpse of “how you do it all” your ability to do effective ministry could be called into question?
In addition, assumptions about the concept of balance make its attainability all the more incongruous. To expect that all of your responsibilities -- to your multiple ministry roles and those to your own self -- can be at equal weight all the time is simply not reasonable. Circumstances arise that tip the scale regardless of how much effort you put into keeping the weight even.
Of course, the attractiveness of balance is rooted in the idea of making sure that all that is important in your life receives equal attention. This goal, however, has lost its true focus. It should not be an ideal that equal attention is a daily possibility (mostly because it is unachievable) but that equal attention over time is essential to how you live your life in all of its complexities and contextualities.
In practical terms, this approach to “maintaining balance” requires constant renegotiation of what is most important to you in your life. That is, you assess regularly and frequently where, how, and why your commitments have come into a state of imbalance. If one commitment in your life (and, you really need to figure out what these are) is receiving or has received the most concentration for a while (likely for good reasons), how can you bring some of the others into focus? Which ones need more attention than others at a particular time? For some, this daily strategy of realignment and recalibration may seem exhausting. Yet, more exhausting is the energy it takes to maintain a myth.
The church excels at tipping the scales. It succeeds like no other entity in your life in usurping your time and energy, convincing you that the rest of your life is not as important as it. Why? There is an unspoken theological justification that just as Jesus sacrificed all (yes, but he was also human), just as the disciples sacrificed their lives (yes, but they were human, too), ministers in the church are expected to engage in that same kind of self-sacrificial behavior. Yet this perception of self-sacrifice can quickly lead to a giving up of yourself and giving up on yourself, who you truly are. Furthermore, it can end up pushing to our peripheral vision what should be the focus of our ministry in the first place -- faith in God. Faith in God, however, is not a denial of self. If that is true, then God becoming human is even more of a myth. No, faith in God, at least according to Luke, also means faith in your own worth. And your own worth has to be embodied in tending to those core commitments in your life that are central to who you are.
This is where our Gospel text for this week offers a critical corrective -- of our own confirmed commitments and of the church, which often seems to have an imbalanced sense of its own priorities. The point of Jesus’ story is not to bash the wealthy. Often our homiletical impulses all too quickly dissolve into the binaries of this world: case in point, when we preach that you have to choose God over money. The Gospel is not that easy, as much as we want it to be. Jesus is not calling out the rich. Jesus is calling out our loyalties, not only to God, but also to that which in your life enables you to be who God has called you to be. That is, we are no good to God if we are not good to ourselves. Being good to ourselves is not an act of sacrifice or self-care or even self-serving -- it is an act of salvation, being and existing in a way that you believe you are saved so as to make possible that others might see God’s salvation is for them. A skewed loyalty to the church couched in self-sacrifice ends up only communicating to others that if they do not have the same kind of loyalty to God, will God really see them? Does God really love them? Will God really save them?
I am convinced that when our own loyalties are out of kilter, it is awfully hard to find the imagination or the impulse to making sure that God’s loyalty to the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized (Amos 8:4; Psalm 113:7) is preached. If you are constantly in a state of need because you are not committed to what you need, how can you possibly be present to those in need? How can you proclaim a God who listens to those in need, who sees them, who finds them, who frees them, who wants to have dinner with them, who became flesh for them, who died for them, who rose from the dead for them, who ascended for them, when you live your life as if these truths were not true for you?
The question of our dedication, our service, on the part of Jesus is not a request to give up all that gives you life for the sake of a life dedicated to Jesus. It is, rather, an invitation to dedicate yourself to a God, our God, who sees our needs, who sees the complex realities of our lives, who sees all that we are trying to do for the sake of the Kingdom of God, who sees that we are indeed faithful in much. And that, Dear Working Preacher, is the God we choose to serve.
1. Some of these reflections are adapted from my book, SHE: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Women in Ministry (Abingdon, 2016).