A Balanced Life?

My friend Paul once told me his feet are happiest when standing on uneven ground. As a true Wyoming mountain man, living on level ground in Texas has taken its toll on him. Me, I don’t mind level ground so much. After all, I’ve lived in west Texas 86% of my life, and the other 14% was in places just as flat; level comes natural to me.

For the longest time I saw the level landscape as a metaphor for life. A life well-lived was smooth, even, and stable. In fact, I looked forward to the day when my whole life would be balanced; when I would be settled into my perfect job and perfect house and perfect pickup and perfect relationships and perfect ministry and perfect set of goals and dreams. A balanced life sounded good to me.

I remember mentioning to Cyndi about how living in balance was surely calm and peaceful; she pointed out that a ballet dancer balancing on point appears calm and graceful, but if you could see inside of her leg and foot you would see muscles firing with constant corrective movements. Cyndi thought there was no real perfect balance for humans. At least, not if the human was alive.

She’s very smart. Not long after our conversation I read this in a science book, Deep Simplicity: Bringing Order to Chaos and Complexity, by John Gribbin, “Equilibrium (perfect balance) is of no intrinsic interest because nothing happens there … the nearest a living thing ever gets to equilibrium is when it dies.”

So if equilibrium equals death, being alive must be unstable, unbalanced, and turbulent. The trick to surviving is to get better at the corrective movements. The older I get, the more comfortable I am living that way. Not only am I comfortable, I’ve learned I need change and surprise, even instability, in my life to keep growing and stay creative. I need a bit of turbulence in order to thrive.

Which brings me to something I read just this morning by Patricia Ryan Madson in her excellent book, Improv Wisdom. “In the act of balancing we come alive. Sometimes we feel secure, sometimes precarious. In the long run we develop tolerance for instability.”

A couple of summers ago Paul took Cyndi and me on a long hike in the Rocky Mountains National Park, above Estes Park, Colorado. We saw at least seven IMG_0557beautiful serene lakes and dozens of mountain streams. It was amazing. For the entire day we were surrounded by stunning snow-capped peaks, but for Cyndi and me, it was the water that caught our attention. We took more photos of running water than anything else. I’m surprised we didn’t take any videos in order to capture the sound, since rushing water against logs and rocks, turbulent flow, is simply musical. We couldn’t get enough of it.

Lately I have been working through ideas for my next book, thinking about what it means to be a trail guide and mentor, and I’ve wondered how this idea of balance and the desire to live a level life fits in. Should I encourage young men to find stability, or should I tell them to learn to, in the words of Ms. Madson, “Embrace the wobble?” Does Jesus care whether we have equilibrium in our lives? Does he want us unbalanced?

I don’t know. But I know this - Jesus wants us to live in whatever state that causes us to seek after Him. For me, that is not equilibrium, not balanced, or steady state. It’s a little bit wobbly. And I am getting used to that.

QUESTION: How about you? Do you look forward to changes in your life?

“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

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