The biggest surprise, as we learn to find balance in our everyday lives, is how we keep coming back to the topic of doing our own Yard-work. See, that’s a word picture we use to talk about what God has given us– the circle of influence or realm of responsibility for which we will be held accountable. This is at the core of emotional and spiritual and mental health, to know where your circle ends and another person’s begins, and to invest your energy within your own Yard. The Bible calls it being a wise steward. Psychologists call it being highly effective. Whatever. We just realize that life works better when we know what is ours to do and what isn’t. But who would have thought that living a life of balance and being a good steward would turn out to be so much the same sort of thing?
We talk about schedules and which of us likes to plan and which of us tends to fly by the seat of our pants, and we laugh at each other, because we know in the end that unscheduled interruptions and unexpected circumstances are common to all. What any of us can do is work wisely and well within our circle of influence, and leave the rest in God’s capable hands. Of course that is harder than it sounds, because it is in our nature to worry about the unknown– and where does Wise Preparation end, and Trying to Control the Outcome begin? It definitely takes faith, and clear vision to live purposefully in the face of a future that is known only to Someone else. Taking one step at a time. Just doing the next thing, and trusting our Father to lead us on through the expected and the unexpected. But without the balance, we will teeter-totter between chaos and rigidity, and no heart can survive that for long.
When we talk about guarding our hearts diligently, and figuring out what to sow in order to reap the life we desire, we are right back to looking at our Yards again. The Wise King warned, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23) Because if we are not paying attention to the attitudes and values at our core, we can hardly be surprised when our choices go in all the wrong directions, or our words wreak havoc in relationships. We certainly can’t complain about how life turns out if we have left our own hearts in disarray. In gardening terms, you can’t let dandelions and crab grass take over your Yard, and then wonder why you don’t have a lush beautiful lawn. If you want the lawn, you have to do the work of weeding and watering and mowing. Balance between work and rest means taking responsibility for how we live– thinking about our yes and our no so that busyness is interspersed with marginal spaces. It means diligently pursuing health and wholeness within. It’s really just being a good steward of the person God has made you to be. The Wise King spells it out for us: “Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” (Proverbs 4:26)
Even when we talk about balancing faith and works, it all comes down to knowing what I am responsible for and what God is responsible for. My soul is in His hands, and my eternal destination depends entirely on what the Beloved One accomplished for me at the cross. “…it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) On this my faith rests, and it has nothing to do with what I can do or earn or deserve, for He has done it and given it freely. But what I choose to do out of faith has all kinds of good results– it accomplishes much that pleases Him and serves others. If I don’t understand what is mine to do, it gets easy to veer into keeping the rules to earn righteousness, and worrying if I have done enough for God to love me.
I see a pattern emerging, that when I am out of balance in my life, in my spirit, it is because I have forgotten to some degree what is in my Yard and what isn’t. Either I am neglecting to do what is mine to do, or I am trying to extend my reach into other people’s Yards, into things I care about but aren’t mine to fix. That fundamental lack of perspective is human in every way– it’s a function of our broken sovereignty. After all, when people who were made to rule over a planet as God’s image-bearers decide instead to scrounge up their own kingdom out of dust, confusion about their actual abilities is to be expected.
Imbalance can show up as condemnation, and then Jesus says “…first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5) It can look like anxious thoughts that keep me up at night, and I can hear the Church-planter Paul’s words: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6) It can take the form of stress and inner turmoil, and the Wise King counsels, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) It can even show up as pressing need and very real fear, and again Jesus promises that “your Father knows what you need before you ask him…So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ ” (Matthew 6:8, 31)
God’s Words reminds me over and over what is mine to do and what is outside of my control, brings me to my knees in worship before the rightful sovereign Ruler. He directs my attention back to my own Yard, where I will be most productive and healthy, and He promises to take care of all the things that concern me– assures me in every way possible of His love, and His goodness, and His power. When I am being a good steward of what He has given me, and praising God for all He does, that is when I finally find balance for all the aspects of my life.
“Therefore, my dear friends…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12)
“God I give You all I can today–
These scattered ashes that I hid away;
I lay them all at Your feet.
From the corners of my deepest shame,
The empty places where I’ve worn Your name.
Show me the love I say I believe.
Help me to lay it down.
Oh Lord I lay it down…
Oh let this be where I die;
My Lord with thee crucified
Be lifted high, as my Kingdom’s fall
Once and for all, once and for all.”
(Once and for All, Lauren Daigle)