by Chuck Monan
To allow oneself to be carried away By a multitude of conflicting concerns To surrender to too many demands To commit oneself to too many projects To want to help everyone with everything Is to succumb to violence.
- Thomas Merton
Recently, my wife and I spent the day in Searcy, Ark. helping our youngest son get settled into his dorm room at Harding University. I schlepped all of his belongings to his room. His mother made sure everything was put away just so, and took great care to make that prison-esque space as reminiscent of home as possible. After three hours of this, one hour of which was spent reenacting a Three Stooges episode of trying to stack the bunk beds (the Searcy savants had them upside down, which took us a long time to discover), it was time to make that long fifty mile drive back home. All three of us felt a little emotional, but in good stiff-upper-lip British tradition, mostly kept it to ourselves after hugging it out.
And we drove home to our empty nest.
Now what, pray tell, does any of this have to do with living a balanced life? How about this: I have seen too many marriages to count unravel and end in divorce at this juncture of life.
This tragedy has a lot to do with balance, or a lack thereof.
Many American families are built on the bedrock of children. Not God, but children. They are coddled, catered to, and made the center of our lives. Husbands and wives often begin living only for the children, and start relating to each other only through the children. The needs and activities of the children become paramount. And when the children leave, two strangers are left behind who barely know each other. Their lives are so out of balance that it seems impossible to resume any kind of healthy relationship. Not only is this an affront to God, it is an affront to common sense.
Jesus describes the marriage relationship by saying, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matt. 19:5-6). This relationship must be nourished, cared for, and prized. It cannot be neglected or left fallow. Whenever we fail to achieve the right balance in our lives and families, most of the time it is our marriages that pay the price.
This problem is compounded for ministers and elders. Churches demand time and attention of their leaders. It is easy for most of us to pour ourselves into kingdom work to the extent that we run out of time for our wives and children. There is always another committee, appointment, visit or meeting to attend. Always.
Guess who usually gets neglected or ignored?
Merton spoke passionately about the foolishness of trying to help everyone with everything, and how it leaves us spiritually impoverished. C.S. Lewis wrote of spending quiet time with friends, enjoying God’s good gifts: “These are the golden sessions: when four or five of us after a hard day’s walking have come to our inn; when our slippers are on, our feet spread out towards the blaze and our drinks at our elbows; when the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens itself to our minds as we talk¼ Life ¾ natural life ¾ has no better gift to give.”
Some of you will undoubtedly point out that Merton and Lewis were both unmarried, until Lewis married later in life. But the point is still the same: life is only lived well when we achieve a proper balance. This balance must include worship, work, rest, study, service and reflection. Included in every one of these areas must be giving thanks to God for our relationships.
They simply cannot be ignored or neglected. When they are, we pay a terrible price.
As Susan and I deal with a home that seems a lot emptier than it used to, we won’t have any trouble talking, because we never stopped talking. We won’t have any trouble worshiping, because we never stopped worshiping. Like everyone else, we occasionally get out of balance in one area or other. Yet in every season of life, our love and devotion to the Lord brings us back to center. “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you will also appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:4).
Chuck Monan preaches for the Pleasant Valley Church of Christ in Little Rock, Arkansas, and is an avid fan of the Michigan Wolverines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.