Balance requires sacrifice

This post was originally published on February 26, 2008, a few weeks into my experiment of structuring my days around set prayer times. You can read all the posts on that subject here. Lately I’ve been thinking about how smoothly everything goes when I structure my days around prayer, and how I’d like to recommit to that habit soon.


Last night my husband and I were sitting in the living room after the kids went to bed, chatting about our days over little bowls of chocolate ice cream, and I caught a glimpse of the half-folded basket of laundry I’d set aside in the laundry room. Then I thought of those last three bills I needed to pay, and remembered that I never did get around to replying to that one email. My instinct was to get up and meander over to my desk or to the laundry basket, but I sunk back into the couch and kept chatting with my husband instead. And I thought, “So this is what balance is like.”

When I used to make my semi-monthly proclamations that I desperately needed balance in my life, what I was really saying was, “I want to do all the same stuff I’m doing now, but just not be stressed about it!” Yet another huge lesson I’ve learned from this experiment of scheduling life around prayer (instead of vice versa) is this:

Balance requires sacrifice.

I know, to a lot of people that’s as insightful as saying breathing requires inhaling, but it was actually a revelation to me. Before my commitment to make the workday end with Vespers, I would have spent that time after the kids went to bed shuffling around to try to finish the laundry, pay those last few bills, reply to that email, and undoubtedly get sidetracked with all sorts of other things along the way. It would have felt too indulgent or wasteful to just put my feet up and spend a whole hour chatting with my husband! Especially because of my tendency to procrastinate, I would have felt like I “had to” forgo relaxation time in the evening to make up for not getting enough done during the day.

The realization that a natural life is a life with hard stops — that it is only in recent years through modern technology that we have even been able to throw our lives so far out of balance by extending our working hours at will — changed everything. These days, leisurely breakfast time ends and high-energy activity time begins with Lauds (Morning Prayer) at 9:30; high-energy activity time ends and naptime/desk work begins with the Office of Readings at 2:00; and I do one final sweep to get any lingering projects to a stopping point before the whole workday comes to a close with Vespers (Evening Prayer) at 6:00. Do I always have everything done by the time prayer time rolls around? Nope. Am I often tempted to keep working into the evening to make up for not getting enough done during the day? Absolutely. But, I have realized, such is a life of balance.

Back in that post where I talked about my “hard stops” epiphany, I speculated that the reason that pre-electricity generations spoke of a life of peaceful rhythm and natural balance is because, for example, a housewife living in 1890 couldn’t do laundry at 10:00 at night if she didn’t get to it during the day; by virtue of having built-in hard stops like sunset and community-centered activities, they were forced to sacrifice a lot of the things they wanted to get done and simply rest. Mimicking this life as best I can, by allowing my day to be broken into times of work and times of rest by forces larger than myself, has indeed forced me to sacrifice a lot of the things I’d like to get done. And it has given me a life of balance.

I suppose it might technically be possible to achieve such a nice rhythm by using something other than prayer to provide hard stops; but, for me, I doubt that anything else would work. Here in our 24/7 world, there’s so much pressure let your life slide out of balance, to sign up for “just one more” activity, to get “just one more” thing done each day, that with my notorious lack of willpower I’m sure I would have backslid into my old ways long before now with any other type of routine. But by anchoring my days around God by joining in with the universal prayer of the Church, by letting the rhythm of the Liturgy of the Hours be the guiding rhythm of my life, three times a day I am reminded that I only have one real to-do list, and it is short; that the little sacrifices I make to achieve balance are minuscule in the grand scheme of things; that my time is not my own anyway.

I don’t mean to imply that my life is now stress-free or that I don’t ever struggle with challenging days anymore (anyone who read this post or this post knows that that’s certainly not the case). But I will say that it all feels more “natural” than before. Letting go of the temptation to make every hour a working hour, structuring my days around prayer instead of around the frantic pace of the world, might not have made all the stress in my life go away, but it has brought me times of guilt-free rest to act as a counterweight to the challenging times. Life has a gentle rhythm that wasn’t there before. Even though there are days when it’s painful to sacrifice a couple items from my to-do list that I wanted to get done, even though I have more responsibilities now than ever before in my life, I feel that after all these years, I have finally found balance.

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Comments

  1. Olson Family says

    Thanks for re-running this. I have worked at finding a balance between all of the to-do's in life. I am trying to teach my kids balance too – even with my time. There are times to interrupt and times to be patient. 🙂 The best days are those when there are still to-do's unfinished on my list but I had great conversations with my kids and husband.

  2. confused homemaker says

    My husband & I have been talking about this subject. We had a very good rhythm of life & lately we've let that rhythm get away from us. Thanks for the reminder that balance does indeed require sacrifice & action on our part. A big issue for us is checking one more thing online for work, when really nothing online is that important that it can't wait.

  3. Barbara C. says

    One thing I've come to appreciate about breastfeeding is the "hard stops" that it demands. It's part of God's perfect design to make a mom slow down for her physical and mental health.

  4. Ruth Ann says

    I have made it a point to live this way and have done so for decades. However, as you and Confused Homemaker point out, the rhythm can get interrupted and a renewed commitment becomes necessary. Augustine Ichiro Okumura, OCD, has a chapter in Awakening to Prayer called "Anthropology of Prayer." In it he disusses the "prayer that cuts." Your "hard stops" reminded me of what he said. Using the image of the bamboo shoot he says, "The part of the bamboo that stretches upward symbolizes the course of life, and the joints could represent the "prayer that cuts." He goes on to say it is very important to provide ourselves with numerous segments. He also mentions the sacrificial element, "What constitutes the common essence of all prayer is this state of death to self that…renders us 'alive to God in Jesus Christ.' There's more, and I recommend this book. It's a modern classic.

  5. Lisa says

    I needed this. I find it SO HARD to sit and not accomplish anything. Even when I'm sitting with my family, I feel like I need to have something productive in my hands.

  6. Rachel H. Evans says

    My husband and I were talking the other night about how our culture creates so many barriers to contemplation. We are of course thankful for the technological advances that allow us to live longer, access more information, and be more productive…but we also lament the constant sense of urgency that pervades each day.

    I have a feeling that as this generation grows weary of spinning its wheels, the spiritual disciplines will see a resurgence and people will be drawn to the lost arts of contemplation and prayer.

    As always, I think you're just a few steps ahead! 🙂

    Thanks for the post. Very encouraging, as always.

  7. L. David says

    This is a very heavy theme in my life as well these days. I am in the midst of reading Holly Pierlot's book A Mother's Rule of Life, which is centered on creating order for the sake of our vocation as married women and mothers in much the same way that religious orders do. It's like you say, scheduling my life around my prayer time. But it's more than that. If there is ample time in the schedule for everything, and of course we find it shocking how much time we actually have vs. how much time we actually waste, then there is ample time to sit and chat with our husbands for a while. She points out that God is a God of order, not necessarily rigidity, but order. She says also to be careful not to let the family serve the schedule, the schedule serves the family. I LOVE that! I highly recommend this book, it is so thorough in its approach to getting this balance back in our lives!

  8. Headless Mom says

    I've been having a rough time lately and I just read Especially Heather's post from today and the 2 put together is a grand slam for me. Both are exactly what I needed to hear today. Not because I've been busy today, but I've been feeling over-loaded in general and need to seriously look at my priorities, what my responsibilities are, and let go of some of the things that don't fit. I don't know what those things are yet but you'd better believe that I'm going to start to set a mid-day prayer time to re-start my day. I'm certain that God will let me know what I'm supposed to get rid of!

  9. Lisa V. says

    Awesome post. Thanks. So many times recently when I wanted to get this done, or that done I've had to mentally wrestle for a few moments and just say "sit already!". And for that I have precious time with my husband in the evening after a day when we're usually so hectic with our full time jobs. I've become ok with things unfinished. Now I just need to apply this with my devotional time. Thanks again for reminding me of where my priority needs to lie.

  10. Lisa@SoundMindandSpirit says

    Thank you for this. I identify with your struggle of putting your feet up with your husband vs getting that last bit of stuff done. Typically, I use "family movie night" as time to get stuff done while my husband watches movies with the kids. Lately, in trying to find balance, I've started sitting and watching with the family and really enjoying my time. Its so tough to find this balance, especially when we, as women, take on so much responsibility.

  11. monica_divineoffice.org says

    For me, most of the time "balance" is just a word, it has been a long time since I felt truly satisfied with my level of commitment towards my daily responsibilities or completely happy and relaxed. Except for those moments when I pray an feel God's presence everywhere. Balance is indeed hard to find and keep.

    Liturgy of the Hours

  12. Disciple says

    This is so helpful. We women are so good at putting the "housework" first rather than prayer. It is so easy to get out of balance and then we wonder why we get stressed.

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