Life in Balance

restMy wife loves a garage sale. She also loves flea markets, thrift stores, junk shops, consignment exchanges, bazaars, and most any place she can find a bargain. She calls these adventures into the land of trading posts, “treasure hunts,” and she approaches these forays like a zealous prospector digging for gold. Old plates for making mosaics, delicate furniture in need of restoration, bits and pieces of driftwood she will one day use to construct candle holders (or was it wind chimes?), clothes for my two-year-old nephew. It never ends. Sure, she’s found a diamond in the rough here and there over the years, but for the most part she just accumulates scrap piles; piles around the house, in the garage, in the attic, and hiding in the backyard.

In fact, one of the few sources of conflict in our very happy marriage is this: While she is amassing her “treasures” in one heap, I’m moving another heap out the door to Goodwill. She lives by the mantra, “You never know when you might need something,” and I by the opposite, “If you haven’t used it in six months, you don’t need it.” So we are on this always-turning-merry-go-round where happily she launches out to quarry each week’s garage sales, and I am perpetually, and sometimes bitterly, cleaning out our own garage. God help if one of us should jump off this carousel. Our marriage, family, indeed the universe itself, may spin off its axis. The constant turning and churning of our garage compost helps keep our world in balance.

Balance is a hard thing to find, especially in the lightning-paced, attention-deficit, treasure-digging world in which we live. The work hours in our week keep piling up, higher and heavier. The breathing space we used to enjoy is now a mountain of accumulation and responsibility. The demands placed on us by our volunteerism, our families, our children’s schedules, our schooling, these become too much. Our personal, emotional, and spiritual lives begin to look like an episode from Hoarders. Because our lives can quickly be suffocated by all we have and do (and by all we have to do), regular rest is crucial. The biblical word for this kind of rest is “Sabbath.” Sabbath is more than a day of the week, it is a way of life. Rooted in Creation and in the very order of the universe, God established weekly rest whereby we might regain our easily betrayed balance and sanity.

Healthy Sabbath observance is still a large part of the Jewish faith tradition, but we Christians, especially those of us reared with the good-old-Protestant-work-ethic, we view Sabbath-rest more as a sin, than a privilege. But busyness is not necessarily a virtue. It can be a vice. If you don’t believe me, become an active member of almost any Protestant congregation. Before you know it, you will be spending your day of rest and worship collecting great big piles of obligation. Choir practice, Sunday School, multiple worship services, committee meetings, youth group, discipleship classes, church council, conventions: Some of these might be necessary, but some of it, if I may be so bold, starts looking like flea market wares and does very little to lend itself to rest and balance.

Without a doubt, finding balance and rest will not happen spontaneously. It will require you to be intentional – vigilant – about resting. You will have to say “no” to some obligations. You may have to relinquish some of the junk piles in your life to make more space. You’ll have to pass on those commitments you do not feel absolutely passionate about. Take a nap. Use all of your vacation days. Get away. Get alone. Take a Sunday or Sabbath for yourself. This may not be easy, but it is vitally important. For if you do not put in some rest and expunge your heaps of accrued junk, you may wake one day to find the air smothered out of the life you thought you were living. That, or the universe may spin off its axis.