I gave a talk in church today on the topic "Achieving balance in our lives." It was a really good topic for me to spend some time on. A friend asked me to share my talk on my blog, and since I actually did type the whole thing out, here you go. Beware, this one is long. Also, I am aware that there are formatting errors, but, in the name of balance, I am letting them go.
I was asked to speak today on achieving balance in our lives. When I read the topic I immediately thought, Yes, I know why they asked me to speak on this subject. I think it’s because every morning I get up early, read the scriptures for about an hour, have extensive prayers, then wake my 4 children and dress them in perfectly coordinated clothing which I made myself, then feed them a perfectly wholesome and nutritious breakfast while quizzing them on their spelling and vocabulary, at the end of which we sing a morning hymn in perfect four part harmony. (Rosie will join in the harmony soon, for now she just sings the descant). While they are at school, I clean my house top to bottom everyday, while my younger children happily help, never pausing to fight or make a mess. When my other girls return home from school, we cheerfully work on their homework, and I never once lose my temper or raise my voice. Our evening continues in the same manner, and at the end of the day, before I lay down for my 8 hours of sleep, I stop and reflect on how I was able to accomplish every single thing I wanted to in my day.
I’m trying to think if any part of that is actually true. In actuality, most days I get up, get dressed, get my children dressed in something. I usually get at least 3 sets of teeth brushed and at least 2 heads of hair. I know they all eat something every morning, but it has varying degrees of healthiness. I know I have managed to get them to school on time every day this year, but I also know that by saying that out loud, I have just doomed myself. My house is sometimes perfectly clean, but more often than not your shoes will crunch when you walk through my kitchen. I spend a good portion of my day cleaning up the same 3 messes over and over, and if I actually take the time to do my hair and makeup in the morning, Rosie will destroy both my bathroom and my bedroom. Most days I get into bed and wonder where the time went, feeling like I barely made a dent in my to do list. And let’s not even talk about all the things accumulating on my want to do list.
On my sister’s bathroom cupboard, on an unadorned slip of paper, is a quote from Sister Majorie Hinckley. She said, “We have a lot to learn about simplifying our lives. We have to decide what is important and then move along at a pace that is comfortable for us. We have to develop the maturity to stop trying to prove something. We have to learn to be content with what we are.”
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf explained the same sentiment in a slightly different way. He said, “It’s remarkable how much we can learn about life by studying nature. For example, scientists can look at the rings of trees and make educated guesses about climate and growing conditions hundreds and even thousands of years ago. One of the things we learn from studying the growth of trees is that during seasons when conditions are ideal, trees grow at a normal rate. However, during seasons when growing conditions are not ideal, trees slow down their growth and devote their energy to the basic elements necessary for survival. This is a simple but critical lesson to learn. It may seem logical when put in terms of trees . . . but it’s surprising how easy it is to ignore this lesson when it comes to applying these principles in our own daily lives. When stress levels rise, when distress appears, when tragedy strikes, too often we attempt to keep up the same frantic pace or even accelerate, thinking somehow that the more rushed our pace, the better off we will be.”
I love that analogy. It made me think of the quote, “Be kind, everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Some days are harder than others. We must be kind, especially to ourselves.
Elder Uchtdorf continued, “One of the characteristics of modern life seems to be that we are moving at an ever-increasing rate, regardless of turbulence or obstacles.
Let’s be honest; it’s rather easy to be busy. We all can think up a list of tasks that will overwhelm our schedules. Some might even think that their self-worth depends on the length of their to-do list. They flood the open spaces in their time with lists of meetings and minutia—even during times of stress and fatigue. Because they unnecessarily complicate their lives, they often feel increased frustration, diminished joy, and too little sense of meaning in their lives. It is said that any virtue when taken to an extreme can become a vice. Overscheduling our days would certainly qualify for this. There comes a point where milestones can become millstones and ambitions, albatrosses around our necks.”
I feel that way so very often, brothers and sisters. There are so many things to do in our every day lives, and most of them good and important things. And yes, I am including taking an afternoon nap whenever possible in the good and important list. The biggest decisions in most of our lives are not between good and bad but between good and better. And I know too often I equate having a balanced life with being perfect in everything, all the time. In reality, we obtain balance in our lives by learning what to keep and learning what to let go. Elder Oaks said, “We have to forego some good things in order to choose others that are better or best because they develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthen our families.” Elder Uchtdorf followed that quote with, “There is a beauty and clarity that comes from simplicity that we sometimes do not appreciate in our thirst for intricate solutions. My dear brothers and sisters, we would do well to slow down a little, proceed at the optimum speed for our circumstances, focus on the significant, lift up our eyes, and truly see the things that matter most. Let us be mindful of the foundational precepts our Heavenly Father has given to His children that will establish the basis of a rich and fruitful mortal life with promises of eternal happiness.”
He then shared Mosiah 4:27, one of my favorite verses.
And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.
This verse also reminds me of another favorite scripture in Ecclesiastes, chapter 3
2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
As I struggle to achieve balance in my own life, it helps me to remember that not everything has to be done today, nor should we even try. There are seasons in our lives, and in each we do different things. There were times in my life when I was in complete control of my schedule, and could dictate every moment of every day. Those times are not now. These days I am more at the mercy of other people’s schedules, and am so much less able to do all the things I want to. There was a season when my house stayed clean. That is definitely not the season I am in right now, and I have to remind myself that that is okay. It is okay to let some things go.
There are certain basics, though, which we should keep close. Elder Uchtdorf describes four relationships which we must cultivate. First, our relationship with our Heavenly Father. “To strengthen our relationship with God, we need some meaningful time alone with Him. Quietly focusing on daily personal prayer and scripture study, always aiming to be worthy of a current temple recommend—these will be some wise investments of our time and efforts to draw closer to our Heavenly Father.” Secondly, we cultivate our relationships with our family. Thirdly, we build relationships with our fellow man. And the fourth key relationship is with ourselves. He states,
"It may seem odd to think of having a relationship with ourselves, but we do. Some people can’t get along with themselves. They criticize and belittle themselves all day long until they begin to hate themselves. May I suggest that you reduce the rush and take a little extra time to get to know yourself better. Walk in nature, watch a sunrise, enjoy God’s creations, ponder the truths of the restored gospel, and find out what they mean for you personally. Learn to see yourself as Heavenly Father sees you—as His precious daughter or son with divine potential."
I often feel this is the very hardest one. It is so easy to see only our flaws and become blind to our strengths.
When I was pregnant with my third daughter, Maggie, I developed severe carpal tunnel syndrome in both of my hands and up my arms. I spent the better part of that pregnancy attempting to sleep sitting upright on the couch because when I laid down the pain was unbearable. I had hoped that after she was born the pain would go away, but unfortunately it did not. When she was 3 months old I had surgery on my left hand, a month later they fixed my right. I felt so much better immediately, but it still took months and months to full regain the use of my hands. There were still months of pain, months of weakness, months of learning and relearning my new limitations, and then testing them.
One day, about a year after my surgery, I was working in my garden, pulling weeds and enjoying the sunshine. I marveled at how easily I was able to grasp and pull even the most stubborn weed from the ground. I was filled with gratitude and thought, “I am so happy. I think I’ve got about 90% percent of the use of my hands back!” But in that very moment, I started thinking of the buts. But I still can’t do this. But I still can’t do that. But I still have this pain. Before I knew it I had talked myself from 90% satisfaction, to about 50%, and suddenly the day was not so sunny.
For me, the biggest obstacle to achieving balance in my life is my tendency to dwell more on what I am unable to get done instead of rejoicing in what I do accomplish. It is not necessary to do everything. Quoting Elder Uchtdorf again, “Strength comes not from frantic activity but from being settled on a firm foundation of truth and light. It comes from placing our attention and efforts on the basics of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. It comes from paying attention to the divine things that matter most.
Let us simplify our lives a little. Let us make the changes necessary to refocus our lives on the sublime beauty of the simple, humble path of Christian discipleship—the path that leads always toward a life of meaning, gladness, and peace.”