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Wednesday, August 11, 2010
This is a therapeutic post for me. I don’t generally like to talk about stuff that isn’t already at least marginally in place in my own life. This particular topic, however, is something I find myself still wrestling with. So if you don’t mind, I’ll invite you to climb inside my head for a bit.

I had time with my extended family during our summer vacation. One night we decided to play the game “Family Memories.” It was a fun trip down memory lane, but I won’t bore you with the details, with the exception of something my dad said to me in the course of the game. Basically what he said was that he admired the way I had done such a good job of finding balance in my life, contrasting it somewhat with the way he had not done as well at it as he would have liked to. He didn’t elaborate, but I assumed he was referring to the balance I’ve always tried to strike between family, career, faith and my own self- interests.

On the surface his kind words were encouraging to me. It blessed me to know that my effort to live my life with integrity was recognized by my dad. But in the intervening weeks, as I find myself struggling for direction in my career, finances and ministry, I’ve come smack up against some serious doubts. Has what my dad described as a balanced life actually just been a life filled with compromises and capitulations that ultimately result in me falling short of my potential?

Maybe, as I sometime do, I am seeing the dark side of what should otherwise positive comment. (I can sometimes be a bit of a glass-half-empty kind of guy.) Maybe I am over-analyzing – I tend to do that too. Maybe the enemy is whispering deception in my ear. I don’t really know what has caused me to wander down the road of doubt, but here I am, regardless.

Two World Views

What I’ve come up against is two distinctive world views. World view one is the American Dream, where success is defined by what you have: a bigger house (preferably with an in-home theater system), a certain make of car (also requiring an advance audio/ video/navigation system), a vacation home, and a significant net worth. The other world view, that of the Kingdom of God, has a distinctly different definition of success. Greatness in the Kingdom has nothing to do with what you have, but rather it is based on who you are inside.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the struggle I’m having is the ongoing tug-of-war between these two world views. I’m no fool; I know that the choices I’ve made over the years to make my family and faith a priority over climbing the corporate ladder have probably cost me in the material sense. By no means have I always gotten it right, especially early on. And don’t get me wrong, I have a well-paying job and have held several positions of significant responsibility in my company. But had I opted to change jobs more, move my family more, travel more, and work more hours, I know I could be beyond where I am now both in pay and position.

Even in my ministry life it’s tempting to define success by numbers. My desire for significance, even when it comes to Kingdom work, can easily morph into an unholy ambition to be impressive in the world’s terms: to hold positions of greater influence and authority, to serve and touch larger numbers in larger churches and bigger venues in more countries, etc.

Balance vs. Compromise

There’s much more to my mid-life reflections of this nature, but it is time for me to wind this up. So where I am on this right now is trying to answer a key question: What’s the real difference between balance and compromise? To date my reflections have led me to what I think is the key difference: integrity.

Compromise involves doing something you don’t want to do or not doing something you do want to do. It generally involves giving in or giving up. It comes with the feeling that I lost and someone else won. It can foster resentment, indebtedness and scorekeeping. Corey at Simple Marriage wrote a great post entitled “Warning: Compromising in Your Marriage May Ruin It.”  He describes how the wrong kind of compromise can ultimately do damage to your marriage, and I agree with his perspective.

Now contrast that kind of compromise with balance. Where compromise comes from obligation, balance has to do with choice. Choosing to live my life in balance means I try to act with integrity toward my core values. For example, it means I give my work enough priority and attention to ensure that my family is fairly provided for and sometimes even spoiled a bit, because that is important to me. But I choose not to work 80 hours a week and such, not because I would feel guilty or because my wife would fuss at me, but because that would not be living with integrity toward the value I hold for my wife and family. It would go against who I am.

I say all this not to accuse those whose work requires extra hours, extra travel or frequent corporate moves. I don’t presume to judge the values of others. I just know that for me, living a balanced life, living in agreement with my priorities, means I have choices to make. Those choices have consequences in the natural. But I also believe they have even greater consequences in the eternal.

Would I turn down a beach condo if someone were to give us one? Don’t be silly, of course not. I’m not against having stuff. Would I like to be completely debt free and have a fully funded emergency fund, as Dave Ramsey says? Sure. But the stuff is not really the point. The point, at least for me, is to be completely content with a life of balance and integrity and to realize that sometimes, as the old adage goes, less really is more.

Productive vs. Fruitful

So now that I’ve teased you into thinking I was actually going to wrap this up a few paragraphs ago (don’t you hate when preachers do that), I want to touch on a closely related struggle. I know, I know, this should probably be a series instead of one post. My Communication degree daughter warned that people don’t read posts of more than 200 words. I don’t think I’ve done a post less than 500 yet. But now I’m digressing (even further).

I’m also grappling with the notion that whether in work or ministry or even at home, my life is not summed up by the totality of what I do. That is really hard for me. I’m very action oriented and accomplishment driven. I make lists for the satisfaction of checking things off them. But I’m trying to get to a place where the manner in which I do things gets much more attention than the doing of them. I also want to enjoy the doing and not just the being done. I want to have peace and joy, whether working under a stressful job situation (as I am now) or when everything is swimming along nicely, whether I get 100% or 10% of my to do list done.

Kathleen Quiring has a couple of related posts that I found helpful in this self- examination. One from her blog  challenged my thinking by posing the notion that being productive isn’t necessarily the same as being fruitful. I like that distinction – a lot. The other was a guest post she did on Engaged Marriage where she suggested, in response to a time budgeting post by Dustin, that we might be better off taking more time and getting less stuff done. I think she’s onto something when she encourages us to not just consider how much we do but “how meaningfully we do each thing.”

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Sorry, but I don’t know if there is really a point to this way-too-long and rambling post. I don’t even know why I felt I needed to post this for others to read. Maybe there are folks out there feeling the tug of the two world views, feeling like they haven’t amounted all they wanted to be, or who are trying to make sense out of their struggle for significance. Maybe some of this will be helpful.

If you wish to continue the dialogue post a comment or drop me an email (remember there’s a convenient email form on the left sidebar).

Now, thanks for visiting, but it’s time for everyone to climb back out of my head.

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PS Sorry, daughter, this one hit 1486 words. And you are right, no one probably read this far. But I feel better anyway. (Now I’ve crossed over 1500 words and am approaching novella territory). So I’ll simply say, “The End.”


Jenni said...

You have always done an amazing balancing act as far as your wife and daughters are concerned. But I sometimes think we have taken advantage of that. You don't always make sure you have enough time for you, especially for fun. This has been a big time of transition and the things you have poured your time and efforts into are not as obvious as career successes. But do look at your marriage, daughters, homelife and Spirit life. I think you are wonderfully successful!

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I find curiosity and problem solving in life a great joy. Other times, it feels like a curse. "How, Lord, can I understand how to live?... because I really want to do it well."

And in the moments I am drowning in Jung, Nee, the Church Fathers, modern science, social issues, and the lives of the amazing children and spouse in my home I remember something...

So long as I stare at the Carpenter on the water, I don't sink. Sounds a bit too good to be true I guess. But if my Incarnate Creator is a sham I feel doomed. What else could I possibly relate to? A system of religion? An existential argument? In the place of most raw honesty, they all fall short. But the presence of that Man I feel truly human, and truly understood... He just penetrates me and I feel completely naked.

So I shut my mouth, still my mind, and crawl toward His feet and the hem of his clothing near the ground. His response is always serious, welcoming, honest, tender, and so many other things I wish I were more of.

Where would I be without Him? Where? I might be a successful academic and amateur philosopher who the world might find interesting. Blech.

"My Master, teach me how to be balanced and fruitful with integrity... the way I see it in You. Make me successful Your way."

Jenni said...

That comment just makes me cry, it is soooo right. It's all about the One who gave His all for me. With Him I can be naked without shame and He points me to what I was created for. My highest calling is to be loved by Him.

Anonymous said...

Cute post! We need to know that the American Dream world view is totally wrong. I know a lot of "successful" people in the eyes of the world, who are unhappy and who hate life. There is more to life than working and dying.

I know that I just make sure I'm walking down the path that God placed me on. And when I stay there, I'm happy. I agree, we need to set priorities in life and focus on those. Work shouldn't be before family!

This is one of my favorite posts, so much meat in this post.

Kathleen Quiring | Project M said...

I missed this post because I was on my anniversary trip when you posted it. But I stumbled across it now, and definitely read through the whole thing. But then, I struggle with being wordy myself.

In fact, we struggle with a lot of the same things, it seems. I have been wrestling with the EXACT question you bring up in the beginning of this post: is "balance" really just a nice word for (as you put it) "compromises and capitulations that ultimately result in me falling short of my potential?" I worry about this ALL THE TIME.

I have been striving for similar conclusions that you reached, but you managed to put it into better words: I like your distinction between "balance" (which has integrity) and "compromise" (which doesn't).

Hopefully both of us will continue to work this out in our lives and our writing. Thanks for your thoughts! Rambling is not always a bad thing :)

Scott said...

Jenni - let me just say I have an amazing wife. Thank you!

Annon - yes, indeed, where would I be without him!

Favor - I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I'm not sure I can say I'm always "happy" on the path God puts me on, but I do want to find joy there.

Kathleen - yes we'll continue to work this through. Maybe this is one of those lifelong quests that never receives a final answer this side of eternity.

I find it interesting that my longest post ever garnered the most comments ever. So much for my daughter's expensive comm degree (if she reads this - I'm just kidding!)

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