I adore art museums. Last week as I wandered through the contemporary art section of the Phoenix Art Museum, I came across an installation which was essentially a 6-foot long mobile. It made me think of the amazing works by Alexander Calder (see some Calder artwork here). I marveled at its balance and contemplated the number of hours required to get each piece perfectly placed.
Like this mobile, many adults I know are working hard to achieve balance in their lives. It seems like such a good goal, but I have found that searching for this elusive equilibrium is often frustrating and futile. The myth of balance assumes that life is static, that if we can just find the precise percentages of time to spend in each category of our busy schedules, it will work in all situations and we will have finally arrived at our goal. If I spend x number of hours with each child this week, they will be fine, and I can check off the “Be a good mom” box.
Life does not work that way. The balanced mobile at the art museum would fall apart as soon as a strong wind blew its way. And life is full of strong winds.
Often, relationships do OK with regular care; after all, most days our children really don’t need an in-depth therapy session with mom (I hope!). Other days the high schooler may be stressed to the max, the tween may be struggling with friend issues, the middle child may have a cold that seems to have lingered since Thanksgiving, and the youngest two may be constantly fighting with each other…just one real-life example. And just maybe the husband is gone that week. And you just might have five major things on your to-do list for the next few days.
What do we do when the real world blows apart our carefully balanced schedule?! What do we do if we never had a carefully balanced schedule because life has barely given us a breather?!
Rather than striving for balance, I strive to stay centered. It may seem like an insignificant difference (nuance), but for me it is a vital one. To be centered requires constant minor adjustments and a prioritized focus on what really matters. I find true peace when my life is centered on Jesus Christ.
In the October 2015 General Conference, Elder Richard J. Maynes states, “Centering our lives in Jesus Christ and His gospel will bring stability and happiness to our lives. . . .” He gives the example of clay on a potter’s wheel needing to be perfectly centered, and then continues:
“If our lives are centered in Jesus Christ, He can successfully mold us into who we need to be in order to return to His and Heavenly Father’s presence in the celestial kingdom. The joy we experience in this life will be in direct proportion to how well our lives are centered on the teachings, example, and atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.”
When Jeff and I were engaged, someone gave us a wonderful gift (and, sadly, neither one of us can remember who gave it to us!). The gift was a book — The Divine Center by Stephen R. Covey. I had never read it or even heard of it before that time, but it has had a huge impact on my perspective and has greatly influenced our marriage. The main theme of Covey’s writing that really sticks with me is the point that when we are trying to live like Jesus Christ and follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost, we receive the help we need to prioritize each day. In his words,
“The question, therefore, is never one of choosing between Church and family, or family and work. It is not a matter of asking which comes first. The Lord should always come first, and if we truly put him in that position he will tell us which comes “second.” Sometimes it will be the Church, sometimes family, sometimes work. This situation may not seem as cut and dried as some of us would like it, but the great advantage is the constant source of guidance on the matter and the peace and security and wisdom which come from following that guidance.”
Every time a new bishop or bishop’s counselor is called in our stake, Jeff and I give a training to the bishopric members and their wives. It is one of my favorite things I do with Jeff, and it is modeled on the training given to us by our–at the time–Area Authority Seventy, Elder Pickerd, and his wife, Marion, when Jeff was called to be the stake president. This discussion about how to spend our time is always a key part of the training. When anyone in a family has a time-intensive Church calling or job or health problem, the answer to all of our questions on how to spend our time is found as we rely on the Spirit of God.
Through our sixteen plus years of marriage, I have been grateful over and over again for this guidance. I have made and continue to make mistakes in this area, but the more I learn what Heavenly Father’s guidance feels like in my life, the easier it is to know when I am truly centered. This is how I am able to send my husband off to many meetings and be strengthened and enabled to do my part at home. This is how I know when to ask Jeff to stay home from a meeting or cut a meeting short. This is how he and I “balance” our time at church, at home, with our jobs and hobbies and relationships with others.
“We need not worry if we can’t simultaneously do all of the things that the Lord has counseled us to do. He has spoken of a time and a season for all things. In response to our sincere prayers for guidance, He will direct us in what should be emphasized at each phase of our life. We can learn, grow, and become like Him one consistent step at a time.” —Elder Richard G. Scott
One of my favorite scriptures is found in Philippians 4:13 (and I’ll probably quote it often here): “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” It is good to note that this verse does not say, “I can do all things all the time for everybody by myself.” We must develop a relationship with our Savior through scripture study and prayer and following the Holy Ghost, and we must rely on the enabling power of Christ’s atonement to help us through the trying times.
As we do so, everything else will fall into place. We will have the strength and wisdom to make the choices which will be best for us and our family and friends. This will look and feel different for everybody, and it will even change for us individually as we learn and grow, line upon line. But we can trust that our Heavenly Father will guide us to the best options when we are focused on Him and His Son.
In this way, we will be centered, and we can stay centered, no matter how strong the winds may be that blow our way.