Obviously, balance is important. We have no problem conceiving of the need for rest-work balance, or social time and solitude, or nutritious and non-nutritious foods.
Yet when I picture balance I tend to picture a static scale like this.
Sometimes this is an accurate image, but when we think about our lives, it falls short because it fails to consider time and motion.
We like the idea of arriving, of setting things up the right way and leaving them alone. But life moves. You can never dial in the right balance of a thing once and for all and leave it alone.
Life balance is more like walking than it is adding weight to a static scale. When you walk, some of your weight is on your right foot, then most of your weight, then all of it. And then it’s time to balance. What was needed one second ago is the opposite of what is needed now. One second ago it was all about the right foot, but now it’s all about the left.
If you get tired of balancing and decide to plant both feet at the same time, you’ll simply stop moving.
I’ve often been discouraged at my constant need to rebalance, but maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. Maybe the day I “arrive” is the day I stop moving forward.
My wife and I were sitting with our 5-year-old son and going over his US states flash cards.
When we flipped the card for North Carolina, my wife read their motto.
To be, rather than to seem.
Or, for you Latin lovers: Esse Quam Videri. Don’t ask me how to say that.
It was one of those moments when you feel you’ve heard a whole sermon in 2 seconds.
This motto seems like the opposite of our society.
Recently I was working out with a friend at a public gym. We were about half way through, sweat dripping, lungs pumping, when a girl walked in across the room and sat down in front of a mirror. She sat for a minute and then stood. I noticed in my peripheral that she wasn’t moving. When I looked over she had her hip popped to the side and her phone lifted for a selfie. She stood like this for probably 2 minutes.
A few more seconds passed and she lifted her bag to her shoulder and walked out of the room. I can only hope she worked out before or after that photo shoot. Even if she did, the purpose of her visit to this room was to get the picture of herself at the gym. To seem, rather than to be.
Seeming is the shortcut, the cheap way, the empty way, and it almost never leads to the recognition you crave. When it does, the recognition is quick and cheap. On the other hand, sleep is sweet when you focus on being and let the seeming take care of itself. No one has to know you’ve done well if you know for yourself. And the inverse is true. If you know you haven’t done well, no amount of praise from others will give you peace.
I’d rather be the kind of person who shows up with quiet results than the person who announces their method but never has anything to show for it.
Take a picture of the sun dropping down and burning the cloud bottom with starshine fire. Orange and amber blazing in furious beauty whether you watch or not, but tonight you decided to leave the house for tacos so you saw it and it burned a hole in your heart. It’s just a sunset. Take a picture. You’ll remember it.
And why will you remember it? Why will you bottle up meaning and squeeze it tighter, as if you could stop the sand of life from falling through the bottom of your palm? Because you know everlasting things don’t have the monopoly on meaning. A pregnant womb; a crawling child; a tree in spring—these leave as fast as the come yet their meaning pulsates through the galaxy of the heart forever.
So take a picture and put it in a box and forget it so your kids will find it 2 months after they bury you and feel the same wave that shot through you that night when you clicked the shutter. You bottled it up by instinct, mostly for you, but now it’s for them. They’ll see it and know the beauty you saw wasn’t in vain. Then they’ll throw the picture away because you can’t keep everything.
When that picture degrades in the landfill and the memory of that sunset goes back into the earth, perhaps the universe will notice that you appreciated that night and did your part to expose the lie that meaning is only real when it lasts forever.
This is the end of daily posting for now. I have several long-form pieces on deck that I’ll be sharing with you soon that are hopefully more researched, thought through, and helpful to you.
Posting daily has been a great lesson in consistency and brevity, but there are longer things I want to write that will require me to let go of the daily thoughts.
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Some of you have let me know you’re reading, and I can’t tell you how much it has meant.
“I don’t blame you one iota for feeling as you do. If I were you, I would undoubtedly feel just as you do.”
This is from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.
The only reason that you are not a rattlesnake is that your mother and father weren’t rattlesnakes. You deserve very little credit for being what you are, and remember the people who come to you irritated, bigoted, and unreasoning deserve very little discredit for being what they are. Feel sorry for the poor devils. Pity them. Sympathize with them. Say to yourself, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Three-fourths of the people you will ever meet are hungering and thirsting for sympathy. Give it to them and they will love you.
How can a society as advanced as ours remain so uncivilized? How can we be so content for hate to abound?
If we spent one tenth of the amount of time trying to understand other people as we do trying to reinforce ourselves, we would have a drastically different America. As it is, we are addicts—always chasing another hit of affirmation to make us feel okay and secure.
Some talk about civil war like it would be a good thing—like we could get the results of it without seeing our sons and daughters die. We think that’s possible because of the environment we’ve been raised in. Few who love ordering steaks would be willing to see the cow upside down in the slaughterhouse, its blood running on the floor like a river.
Imagine implying something so foolish as being willing to kill your neighbors when you’ve never even asked them why they feel the way they do.
What if we sought growth as much as reinforcement? What if instead of denigrating those who see things differently, we listened to their story? What if in our zeal to do anything for our country we were bold enough to do the task we most dread—change our minds.
The problem is, understanding takes effort and time and we’re lazy and in a hurry. “You’re what’s wrong with our country” feels better and is faster than, “Thanks for sharing your perspective. Just so I can understand, can you explain this part? I haven’t heard that yet and would love to learn more.” Who has time for that?
America will never be uniform in its ideologies and policies. There will never be a day when all problems are solved. But there can be a day, and it could be as soon as tomorrow, when understanding fills our interactions, when sympathy is extended as a habit, and when we fight for service and brotherhood instead of fighting for our own way. The day could come when our rally cry is no longer “this is MY America” but “this is OUR America”—a day when we are most troubled, not that the world around us is changing, but that voices around us remain unheard. A day when, for the first time in our history, we truly see liberty and justice for all.
Our problem is widespread, but the only place change can happen is in the minds of individuals. Some of the most powerful and disarming words you could say are, “I may be wrong.” They are also some of the most truthful.
I’ll leave you with the often quoted but never worn out prayer attributed to St. Francis.
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.