Monday, August 13, 2007

Balancing Act

Thanks for all of you who supported me and prayed for me as I tackled a New Wine seminar for the first time. I had about 250 people present in a large blacked-out marquee called Seminar City. All of them were there because they felt they wanted to get some sort of balance back into their lives.

I was surprised at the numbers because the 4.00 p.m seminar slot is the third of the day and dedicated attendees can also do morning and early morning Bible studies. I guess it just goes to show how out of balance we can all get.

I was determined to do a seminar, a word which has been hi-jacked at New Wine by the idea of lecture.

Anyway for those who weren't there, here's the gist.

Do you feel balanced? 100% of the people attending put their hand up to say they felt that somehow their life was out of kilter, out of hand, out of balance and were seeking equilibrium (a word that simply means equally balanced).

The Bible doesn't suggest walking down the centre of the road and being moderate on every issue or practice. It suggests that there will be extremes and stresses and the balancing act (the title of the seminar) is to take the pressure and make space for release.

A biblical view of balance is weird and uncomfortable. From the weighing in the balance of the mysterious tekel in Daniel 5:27, the bashing of Babylonian babies' heads against rocks at the end of Psalm 137, the 'It is too small a thing for my servant to be light only to Israel' in Isaiah 49:6 and Jesus' back-turning on the sick to go somewhere else in Mark 1:38 we see that sometimes extreme views and actions are mouthed and even enacted. This biblical God is a God who weighs people in the balance (judges), allows them to give voice to their anger and revenge, gives more work and responsibility to the already-busy and prioritises preaching over healing, sometimes. Job's life was balanced in that his lost family and fortune was restored, but who would forget the loss of those children? Write a pen-picture of a holy person from the Bible and you might find a prostitute-marrying, murdering, adulterous, zealot who cooks on dung. God doesn't do good taste.

But who wants to live a statistically balanced life? I have a son in Japan, a son in Birmingham and a wife in Nailsea. The mean position of my family is Finland, a place I have never visited. The statistician looks at the man with his head in the freezer and his feet in the oven and pronounces him, on average, comfortable.

And who wants to live, apart from through monastic intent, a balanced life through withdrawal? All we can be certain of is that those who keep themselves to themselves, often lauded as a British character trait par excellence, will have few attending their funerals.

Those who seek balance by taking all opinions equally seriously will find they always bear the mark of the last person they were speaking to. Easily swayed.

No, the Bible's balance is different. David Ruis, 'If you try and live a balanced Christian life I can promise you a Valium prescription.' The balance comes from tension but you are not meant to feel tense or unbalanced. Embrace the tension.

When a younger christian I was taught that a priority list in my life might well say:


and that this would be a road to a balanced life. I now see it as a category error, like going to the shops with a list saying:

New car

A God on a things-to-do list, even as number one, is too small. God is. We serve. We will find this demanding. We should expect to be out of balance. So how can the cross-carrying department feel more in balance?

Exercise: go through your week, session by session and score ranging from -10 to +10 based on how in or out of balance you feel at the end of it, assuming a Monday morning start with a score of nil. Does work drain you or energize you? Is the first hour of the week filling you up and preparing you for work or starting you off on a downer?

(In the live seminar 50% of the people present had positive scores).

Look at your score? What were the things that drained? What rebuilt? Talk it through with someone if you can. What caused the emotional mismatch between feeling out of balance and a positive score? What were the points that took your score down? Were they the same sort of things each time? How could they be balanced or compensated for?

If a phone call with one person is draining, phone another person at once who is more uplifting. If a meeting is full of dull people use your interventions to ask the more interesting people what they think.

Know the difference between real and apparent work. Some of the things in your job descriptions might be such fun you would do them even if you weren't paid. Some things are so hard in your home life (cleaning/washing/ironing/DIY) that we would rather we got paid to do them. Get a real/apparent work and a real/apparent leisure balance in each day if you can.

Don't be hijacked by the idea that you would be better if you prayed if you find prayer one of the things that attracts a minus score. Still do it. But be prepared to balance it. God may change how you feel about it.

Remember that biblical balance comes in the fullness of time, not hour by hour, or week by week. Whilst we wait for that ultimate balancing moment of our deaths and hopefully resurrections we need to find the tricks that help us live the John 10:10 Jesus way - life in all its fullness.

A bereavement may cause a score of minus 200 but you can observe it creeping back up.

Meantime we will, with Moses, have questions to ask of God from time to time. Moses great (Exodus 3:1-4:17) questions are:

Who am I?
Who are you?
How can I make people listen?
What if they don't?
Why not send someone else?

This is a very brief summary. It is meant to be a Eureka training session. At some point I hope you got it without having to run around the site naked Archimedes-like. It may change your life. If you don't see it or get it or it doesn't work for you, you only lost the time it took to read this. Hang your t-shirts on the line under slight tension in future and they won't need ironing. Time saved in return.


Chemical said...

I see what you are saying, and I get it :-)

This is a lesson I learnt the hard way, I hope listening to what you said and the way you said it proved/s beneficial for others, and saves them unnecessary heartache and stress.

Martin said...

Thank you for a useful talk.

Rob Norman said...

I've often advised clergy to balance their energising/draining work as they plan their week in my work as a church consultant - good to see you saying so in a New Wine seminar.