Finding Balance Through Prayer
The notion of "work-life" balance that first entered America’s public conversation about 20 years ago is by now a bona fide social movement with its own product line. One website promises "Full relaxation tool kit only $269." Another site offers "Life Balance Software for Your Smart Phone."
The problem with the "balance" concept is the image of two competing forces: one always prevails over the other, except for those rare moments when "life" and "work" are in perfect tension. And as though two competitors were not enough tug, the Christian adds the worry of doing right by God and the nagging thought that spiritual life probably deserves a space all its own.
For years, I read about the devotional lives of people who reportedly spent hours in prayer each morning. Surely, I thought, if Mother Teresa could spare two hours from her holy work, my mundane world had that much time for a daily devotion. But in nearly 20 years of being a Christian, I had never developed the prayer discipline.
Then about 18 months ago, I started seeing a spiritual director who gave me a fairly simple template to follow. More important, he encouraged me not to become legalistic about the practice. My "attendance" at these devotions stays so mixed that I can hardly call it a discipline, but I have managed to stay with it longer than ever before.
Many mornings the exercise seems empty. I asked a wise priest about those days, and he gave me a verse, now framed and sitting on my desk:
For as the rain and snow come down from heaven,
And do not return there without watering the earth . . .
So shall My word be . . .
It shall not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire. (Isa. 55:10-11)
He shrugged and said, "The empty times are snow days."
God has faithfully worked in me so gradually that I notice nothing changing day-to-day. Still, the interior anger that smoldered 18 months ago has dissipated. I am more patient with daily interruptions, like the annoying coworker who once drove me wild. And despite my inability to awaken quickly each morning, I can hear a friend remind me, "God doesn't love you any less"—and I believe it.
Sometimes I think we want to be perfect in "these outward things," as Brother Lawrence called them, so that other people—and by extension, God—will think better of us. Ultimately, that is why the search for balance in our work and spiritual lives is so unrealistic. The place to strive to be is not on one fleeting side of the scale or the other, but the warm, enduring center of God's grace.