Last week I hosted our “Well Done” Workshop (you can watch the recording here). In it, I talked about a tool called a “Well Done” statement. It’s a vision statement you write for yourself that encompasses what faithfulness to God looks like in each area of your life.
A statement like this seeks to address six major domains of stewardship in our life:
But during the presentation, the same question came up several times:
“How do I balance these different areas of life?”
It’s a good question. We all want a balanced life, don’t we?
But my initial response to that question is always, “What exactly do you mean by a balanced life?”
Are we looking for some perfect equilibrium—the precisely right amount of sleep, exercise, and time with family, work, and church? And if we found that perfect formula, is that then supposed to become the norm for every day of the week? What about when you have kids? What about when you’re traveling? What about the weekend?
When you start to get specific about what you mean by “balanced,” you’ll find it difficult to define.
But we look for balance—whatever we mean by that—because the current balance feels off. We’re too busy, too stressed, and important things aren’t getting the attention we know they deserve.
So is a balanced life even possible? Is it even desirable? And most importantly, how do we ensure we are stewarding every area of our life well to God’s glory?
Seasonal, Not Static
The trouble with pursuing a balanced life is that our lives are not static; they are seasonal.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:”Ecclesiastes 3:1
We are constantly transitioning through different seasons of life. Balance, therefore, in one season will look much different than balance in another.
One month is dominated by a big project at work, another is consumed with planning for a wedding, and yet another is filled with recreation as you take the family on vacation. Life is always in flux. And that means some domains are given more attention while others are given less.
And if you are honest with yourself, that ideal normal week you imagine you’ll eventually return to when things “finally slow down” never really comes. It’s the elusive white whale we are always chasing but never able to catch because normal weeks don’t exist.
There are no normal weeks.
But recognizing the seasonal nature of life doesn’t mean you should accept perpetual busyness or constant stress as normal, either.
Appropriate Allocation, Not Perfect Balance
No, perfect balance is not what you are really after.
Instead, what you want is an appropriate allocation for the present season. Specifically, an appropriate allocation of time, energy, and focus according to your current season of life.
The question for us in every season isn’t “How do I create the perfect schedule and never deviate from it?” but rather, “How do I steward this present season well?”
During a busy season when your vocation dominates your days, for example, “balance” for you might look something like this graph.
Your job takes up far more time, energy, and focus, thus requiring you to spend less of those resources on other areas. It seems out of balance, right? Yes. But that’s not a bad thing—as long as it’s temporary. It’s just a snapshot of a season.
The slices of the pie will grow or shrink proportionally to the season you are in. That means you will neglect some areas of your life in certain seasons. The trick is to reject the myth of a balanced life and accept these trade-offs as an undeniable reality of your creatureliness.
Accepting Your Limits, Not Doing It All
I recently heard a comedian say he didn’t trust fathers who didn’t have “dad bods.” He said when he sees a dad who is completely jacked he assumes he must be a terrible father. Obviously, that’s not necessarily true, and you shouldn’t completely neglect your health just because you have kids. But there’s a grain of truth in the joke.
I’m convinced that if we could get a true behind-the-scenes look into the lives of many of the people we admire for their dedication to one area of life—be it physical fitness, intellectual pursuits, or family—we’d find that their success in that area comes at the cost of neglecting other areas of life. Renaissance men always have skeletons in their closets.
You simply cannot adequately service every area of your life all of the time.
The sooner you accept that limit, the better off you’ll be.
As a finite creature, you cannot do everything all the time, at least not to the extent you’d like. Only God can. You can’t be perfectly balanced. And, as we’ve seen, that’s not the right goal to aim for anyway.
Trying to lead a life of stewardship requires us to admit that we can’t do it all. And that means making trade-offs with our eyes wide open.
As we experience life changes, such as having a baby, changing jobs, moving, or starting a new exercise plan, we must admit that an increased focus on one area of life necessitates less focus on another.
It’s a zero-sum game.
Whether or not we are honest with ourselves about that reality, something will always be sacrificed.
Strategies for Faithful, if Unbalanced, Living
So how, then, should we live if balance isn’t the objective? Here are a few strategies for how to think about this.
1. Pursue Balance as An Average, Not a Constant
When you approach life stewardship by acknowledging life’s seasonal nature, you do achieve long-term balance as an average. There will be seasons of life where you focus more on your health, seasons where you focus more on family, and seasons where you focus more on vocation.
The question ever before us should be, “Am I being faithful in this season?” And ideally, over the long term, it will average out to the appropriate attention having been given to each area of life.
2. Embrace Planned Neglect, Not Self-Delusion
This became real for me after having our third baby earlier this year. My relational domain of stewardship had to take greater precedence over other aspects of my life. For a while, I tried lying to myself and kept going with all the same things I did before the baby was born. But the result was I was doing those other things poorly and feeling guilty about it simultaneously.
When one domain of stewardship becomes the focus for a season, don’t go with the cross-fingered strategy, hoping you’ll find time to do everything. Instead, embrace planned neglect—for a season. For me, that meant backing off of some work projects, stopping the podcast, and taking time off from a class I was teaching at church.
There were areas where I over-corrected, too, like my physical health. But now that the baby is four months old, I’m easing back into those things again. I’m counterbalancing. Other domains are starting to get more attention again.
3. Create Maintenance Habits for Each Domain, Don’t Quit Them
I’m a big advocate for morning routines. In fact, our most popular course at Redeeming Productivity is POWER Mornings which teaches you how to create a Christ-honoring routine with habits that hit all the major areas of life.
During this busy season, my morning routine kept me from completely neglecting the other domains of stewardship. I knew I was at least getting a little exercise, time in the Word, reading, and other habits as long as I did my routine.
Planned neglect is an important part of accepting your finitude, but you don’t want to disregard your other areas of responsibility completely. Having these kinds of maintenance habits for each of your domains of stewardship that you do even in busy seasons means no area of life ever gets completely ignored.
4. Ask Yourself Honest Questions
I like to do little check-ups with myself to stay honest about how I’m stewarding my life. Here’s a few questions you might try asking yourself to get a good temperature of where you’re at balancing your stewardship domains.
- Which domain of stewardship should be receiving the most attention in this present season of life?
- What does faithfulness look like in this season?
- What habits can I maintain so that I do not completely neglect my other domains of stewardship?
Embracing life stewardship means recognizing that achieving perfect equilibrium within a specific week or day is not the realistic or desirable aim. A balanced life really is just a myth.
Instead, we want to aim for appropriate allocation for the season. And if we are constantly flexing in this way, accepting our finitude, and acknowledging that life stewardship is a game of trade-offs, what we’ll eventually find is that we do find balance. But we find it as a long-term average of the seasons of life. That’s the kind of faithfulness we should aim for.