In part 1 and part 2 of this essay, I reflected on what makes for a balanced life in terms of the bodily needs for proper care in feeding the body, exercise, sleep, and to avoid harmful substances. In this third part, I continue with what makes for a balanced life in terms of the bodily and spiritual needs for recreation, relationship with others, and engagement with God.
Fifth, we need recreation, along the lines of what God intended for Israel with the Sabbath each week. Modern life tempts us to relax with the entertainment of watching television, but I notice that watching others do things does little for refreshing me. Watching waves at the beach, gazing at clouds in the sky, walking around my neighborhood, or playing a game of chess affects me in refreshing ways. Exercise can fulfill this need for recreation, too.
I have recreation in mind here as activity that is not work, such as hobbies and appreciating culture in a way that we are involved (active instead of passive) and thereby enhanced. Vacations can be good, but I need recreation for release of tension and enjoyment of living more regularly than what annual vacations can afford. We were made to enjoy life with God, not simply to work all the time. A balanced life has refreshing, renewing activity of recreation as an ingredient to it regularly.
Obviously, some phases of life do not allow for balance as we might wish or need. Times when I have been severely out of balance were when I was finishing college, seminary, and throughout my doctorate. Also, when I had small children to care for at home, life was about survival of one day at a time. I have several friends that resumed recreation through sport when their youngest child turned four. That has been my experience also.
We can always do with more balance than we experience, since our needs and responsibilities do vary from year to year. What makes for reasonable and beneficial balance in one phase of life may need adjustment in another phase. I have noticed that I do better with balance when I am attentive to it. While we can live with unbalanced life for some duration, eventually the strain can break us down, whether in sickness, injury, or struggles with burn-out, apathy towards our responsibilities, or frustration in daily life. Recreation can be an efficient antidote to overwork and stress to help us regain balance or sustain trials without falling apart.
Mutually Beneficial Relationships
Sixth, we are social beings, made for relationship with others, so we will be miserably unbalanced without fruitful involvement with friends, family, acquaintances, and co-workers. Exercise, food, and recreation can be efficiently and satisfyingly combined with sharing life with others. If we are not sharing life with others, or if our relationships are strained, then everything else can be unbearable and futile.
Unfortunately, modern life allows us to function individualistically within a cocoon of technology and affluence. We may disengage from others for days and weeks if we wish, but this loneliness will wither us. Many people have observed that the expansion of social connections through social media has also increased the sense of disconnection and isolation from others. Modern people reporting higher levels of anxiety, and research suggests that the internet may be to blame. Technologically-mediated relationships have eclipsed our experience of the real thing, leading to unbalanced life. While time can be scarce for us, and relations are time-consuming, our well-being depends heavily upon sharing life with others.
Vital Engagement with God
Seventh, and not as a lower priority in this list, human beings are made for spiritual engagement with God through contemplation, meditation, prayer, and otherwise meeting with God in a direct way. The Christian life is a total existence, so that we can do everything in relationship with God. All activity in the world is spiritually-oriented since we live in response to God and by his enablement. Additionally, we need focused engagement with God alongside ‘practicing the presence of God’ (Brother Lawrence) in all our mundane life activities. The Christian will quickly unravel when attention to God and his work in our lives is neglected.
Like proper food and drink, we are not made to function well without remaining engaged with God, even as one metaphor of our relationship with him is the bread and wine of the Eucharist. “Apart from Me you can do nothing,” Jesus warns us (John 15:4-5 NASB), so we will be balanced by him as we abide in him (and as we surrender to him abiding in us). Engaging with God, like varying forms of bodily exercise, can be multi-faceted: journaling, meditation, reading the Bible, prayer appointment times, spiritual direction, teaching, structured corporate worship, etc. Without a spiritual life we humans are woefully unbalanced. Since we have been designed to function in constant dependence upon God, engagement with God is necessary for the total well-being of a balanced life.
Continue to Part 4 ...