Balance is not something I have actively sought in my life. I have crammed my life full of varied activities and commitments that I find stimulating. While there are moments in which I have felt stretched to the limit, for the most part I have chosen to live this way and thrive on the challenge. Nevertheless, I realize that my lifestyle has come at a cost.
My love of taking on too many projects began while I was at university. I had an evening job which allowed me to go to school full time during the day and still work full time. I found that by remaining focused on my work and school at the cost of my spiritual and social life, I was able to excel at both and that was extremely gratifying. This lifestyle crammed with activity continued into my teaching career. I was active in my church (having been recently baptized), as well as active with volunteer activities in the community where I was living. Although my social and spiritual life did not suffer, I was unhappy in my career and my teaching suffered. (I eventually left teaching and went to seminary.)
The greatest challenge to my very full lifestyle came when I had children. After our first child was born, a lifestyle that had me going full tilt until I crashed no longer worked for me. I realized that I couldn’t give all my energy to activities outside of my home because I had to have reserves to meet the needs of my family. That meant limiting my involvements and giving up the admiration that came with doing so many different things.
So how have I worked at balancing a career, a ministry, a family and personal well-being? First, I have had to let go of the drive for perfection. My house is not a showcase. I don’t make gourmet meals. I don’t host parties. Those are areas that do not fit with my gifts and they are not life-giving to me. Secondly, I find ways to carve out time; one of the ways I do this is by frequently running late. Although it drives my punctual husband crazy, I find running 5 minutes late often preserves my sanity.
Other survival techniques include making lists and crossing things off as they are done. (What doesn’t get done today will get done another day.) I try to make healthy choices around eating, sleeping, and exercising. I reach out to God for strength when I feel stretched. I ask for help and let people know when I am struggling. More and more I build rest and breaks into my day, learning not to cram each moment full of activity.
The most important thing I have learned, however, is that if I am to achieve any sort of serenity in the midst of a busy, active life, I cannot always meet other people’s expectations. I will disappoint people; I will not always be admired and appreciated. I have learned to focus on what is most important, to try to fit in what I enjoy doing, and to accept my remaining obligations – the things I have to do even though I may not want to — without complaining too much!
Once someone commented on how well organized I seemed to be. I remarked that I am not well organized; I am just really good at juggling. As long as I can keep all the balls in the air, no one can see how much effort I am making to keep on top of everything; should one ball drop, the whole thing could collapse. On the other hand, if I don’t have enough balls in the air, I can’t juggle either. For me, living a life that is full of meaningful activity means having lots of balls in the air at any one time. I may not have a balanced life, but I am always working at finding balance in order to keep those balls moving!
Nancy Frey is a Mennonite Mission Network mission worker, along with her husband Bruce Yoder. They live with their two children, Jeremiah and Deborah, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Currently, Nancy is teaching part time at the International School of Ouagadougou as well as supervising the student hostel connected with the Mennonite Church of Ouagadougou. Nancy graduated with an MDiv from AMBS and is an ordained pastor with the Atlantic Coast Conference.