It is never easy to find the balance between being and doing, prayer and work, contemplation and action, interiority and external involvement, soul craft and statecraft, mysticism and politics, piety and social action, family life and our jobs, pampering self-care and compulsive workaholism. Balance among these things is like looking for the Kingdom, a question of searching for a narrow door that few find.

Mostly we suffer from one or the other, burnout or rust-out. I know only of two kinds of persons, those with too much to do and those who do not have enough to do. I know no one whom I can look at with genuine envy and say: “He or she has it just right!” Everyone I know, myself included, is either over-pressured or is frustrated because they would like to be doing more. We lack for good models here.  Balance … to have just the right amount of work coupled with the right amount of prayer, to have a healthy combination of pressure and leisure, is a thing rarely seen.

And there are dangers here both ways, in being overinvolved and in being under-involved:

If I do not have enough interiority in my life, if my fault is over-action, then these will be my faults: I will have no identity outside of my work; I will be a workaholic, compulsive, driven, un-free; I will have no genuine prayer life; my work and social action will eventually become soulless; I will struggle with charity, patience, courtesy, and chastity; and, eventually, my life, albeit packed with many things, will contain not a thimbleful of genuine delight. I will be so absorbed with the business of making a living and establishing myself that I will never really get around to actually living and enjoying myself.

Conversely, if I do not have enough work and external activity in my life, enough pressure and demands from family, work, and community, if my fault is over-piety and one-sided contemplation, then these will be my faults: I will be living in an unhealthy isolation, in perennial delusion and illusion; I will be spaced out, unhealthily disconnected from family and community, lonely, with escapism as my drug of choice; I will narrowly identify spirituality and morality with my own piety; and I will suffer acutely from the lack of a healthy self-image since I am not actualizing my God given talents. I will reverse the Socratic axiom so that, for me, the unlived life will not be worth examining.

Given this perennial struggle for balance, it can be useful to lay out some general principles which, while not necessarily all that practical, at least help show us where, theoretically, the balance lies. I offer these somewhat apologetically, knowing that, in this area, I can hardly present myself as a paradigm.

Nonetheless, for what they are worth, here are some principles for balancing our lives:  

  • Have enough interiority in life to make for mysticism, but have enough family and disruption in life to make for healthy displacement.
  • Have enough interiority in life to make for soul, but have enough obligations and involvements to make for a sense of the corporate.
  • Have enough solitude in life to make for enjoyment but enough dutiful work to identify you with the poor.
  • Have enough withdrawal and self-care in life to safeguard health, but enough conscription and duty to let you know your life is not your own.
  • Have enough of God’s agenda to let you know that this world is not ultimate, but enough of the world’s agenda to let you know that your task here is to help God shape the earth.
  • Be enough at home to realize that your family is primary, but be enough in the world to let you know that the world is your ultimate family.
  • Have enough involvement in prayer and church groups to be considered pious, but enough concern about politics and justice to be considered radical.
  • Be enough Mary to sit, passively, at the feet of Jesus, but enough Martha to not have a privileged escape from the everyday, mundane duties of life.