Balance, or A Good-Enough Center

The irony of my desk is not lost on me. “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” and “Go Dog Go!” are scattered among stacks of theological volumes on vocation and the spirituality of work. (I particularly like the way this morning’s reading session left “Are You My Mother?” next to my icon of Jesus & Mary. You can’t make this stuff up.)

On my desk, in my day planner, ever on my mind, looms large the question of balance. How do I balance my time for work and my time with S.? How do I balance the vocation to motherhood and the vocation to theology? Where do I set my attention, invest my energy, devote my enthusiasm? The ideal of the balanced life is so seductive. In my dark, envious moments, I imagine other perfect mothers out there with thriving careers, charming children, sparkling homes. My fictions can drive me crazy at times, wondering why I can’t get it all done, figure it out, make it all fit. Most days my life pales drastically in comparison with those perfect women in my head. S. is screaming, the phone is ringing, the dog is whining, the emails pile up unanswered, and the towering stack of dishes in the sink threaten to bury us all. If I had a nickel for every time I wondered, “What was I thinking, that I could work from home and take care of a baby?” I would be a millionaire by 3:00 on Monday.

But “good enough” has become my mantra of sanity as of late. It is good enough to forgo making dinner at the expense of a few more hours of reading while S. naps. It is good enough to leave the laundry for the weekend when F. can help. It is good enough to stay in my pajamas and forget about the shower in the hopes of getting more work done. It is good enough to be the me I can be at this time in my life, with these demands on my time, with these responsibilities in my hands. Good enough.

A friend and I were laughing this week about our tendency to over-program ourselves, to pile more on the plate, to stretch our schedules to the max. She blamed it on our overachieving alma mater. I could blame it on lots of other influences as well. But it’s true that I am one of those people who always has too much going on, too many irons in the fire. I can own this now, and I know that I thrive on it. My spiritual director has helped me to see that I find God in the busyness, and that is a vocation as equally good as finding God in the quiet contemplation.

But as I rise to meet the challenge of a new kind of a busyness that come with parenthood, I have had to separate my desire to be busy and active and involved from my desire to be perfect. There, I said it. Perfection. I am a recovering perfectionist. And although I suspected in every other stage of my life that perfection was an impossible goal, I now live every day with the smack-in-the-face reality of unachievable perfection. Babies have a keen way of teaching you that. So instead, I am trying not to let the perfect get in the way of the good. I cannot be a perfect mother, or wife or friend or fill-in-the-vocation-here. But I can strive to be a good one. If I let my own ambitions get out of the way, and try to mold my heart into the widening heart of God, I can be good enough.

Which leads me back to balance. It’s as unattainable as perfection. The image that’s been haunting me this week is that of a teeter-totter. (S. and I are greedily awaiting the return of sun and spring and the hope of playgrounds.) Think back to your recess days. When the teeter-totter was perfectly balanced, you on one side, your friend (of conveniently equal weight) on the other, it was perfectly boring. You didn’t move anywhere, had to be content to let your legs dangle idly as you hung there, waiting to move. But when you began to push, to jump, then things got interesting. Up and down, higher and higher, the rhythm grooved and you back-and-forthed. So, too, with balance as an adult. If I strive for the uber-balanced life, I’m paralyzed by the desperate desire to keep all things equal. But if I allow myself to move back and forth between my responsibilities, my vocations, my work and my loves, then I can establish a rhythm that gives life, a flow that creates energy. When I keep moving between all the demands on me and my time, then I can breathe in the spaces in-between.

So I let the laughing and the singing and the reading and the block-building interrupt my supposedly important theological work. I mingle the chewable board books with the weighty scholarly volumes. I stay up late and wake up early to make deadlines, make breakfast. I get tired and cranky but I also get invigorated by the interplay between the work of work and the work of mothering. I keep jumping and pushing, moving back and forth in search of a rhythm that keeps me sane. As long as God is at the center of it all – God’s love for me and my love for God – then I can find a more-than-good-enough center that helps my life make sense. And gives me grace.

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