We don't know about you, but in the circles we run in (both in and out of work) there are lots of conversations about how we should all be striving for some sort of Balance in our lives. Usually (the best we can tell), people are talking about some sort of Balance between doing the things that take away your energy (physical, emotional, social, spiritual) and things that restore your energy. Of course, often the people that are talking about how we should work toward Balance in our lives are also the people who are asking us to take on more tasks, or they are the people who are running so fast and so hard all the time there is no opportunity for them to think private thoughts....much less achieve Balance.
We bring up the question of Balance this week because there are so many references in scripture about what else we are supposed to Do for other people. We have all heard the aphorism, "Don't just Do something, stand there!" But even for the several places we are told we are loved by God simply for Being Us, there are 100 times more places we find messages to serve others. The formula often looks like, "Because you have been loved, so you should love one another."
We once heard in a stewardship plea this story: "We were discussing in Sunday School this morning whether we are saved by Grace or by Works. There were some folks that believed it is Grace and some believed it is Works. I suggest you hedge your bets and give more money to the church."
Now this would be cool and easy if loving and serving others was always easy and did not drain our physical, emotional, social, and spiritual energy. Let's be honest, even with people we like, it is not always restorative to love them.
In this week's readings we have a few examples.
Remember that Proverbs is a wisdom book that is chocked full of very "sensible" things. It is the source of many commonly used pieces of practical wisdom. In this selection, the author is describing the good and righteous wife - a practical woman, a loving woman, a charitable woman - a woman who seems to do it ALL really well. We thought these high expectations were a modern sociological phenomena. Evidentally NOT. And we wonder, was there balance in this woman's life? Was her joy in all she did enough? Or did she need a good stiff martini and a Gucci or Coach handbag to make her feel better every now and again?
Now the Psalmist writes that those who are happy meditate upon the Law day and night without Sin. Hmm. Again, we find ourselves wondering if there is balance in that? Perhaps - especially if Sin is anything that keeps you from being who God created you to be (in which case, for at least one of us, Sin would involve trying to build spreadsheets full of brilliant, logical equations...or Sin would involve trying to be Mary Poppins - practically perfect in every way).
James reminds us that the restless, generally misdirected longings of our heart lead us down a path of jealousy, covetousness, lust and therefore, sin. He's calling for a certain centeredness in love of God out of which balance will flow. There is such a resonance in this passage for today - for a society that has become so consumerist. What does it mean to look at our longings critically, to discern what is true and good and righteous and to act accordingly?
Finally in Mark we read about the disciples bickering among themselves about who is the best and Jesus challenging them about their understanding of "first" and "last." He tells them that we must be able to receive everyone, putting themselves last in order to receive Jesus. Now what if we didn't worry about whether we had a big enough house and instead worried about whether the whole world was housed - warm and dry and safe? Is there more breathing space in letting go of our own expectations and just "being" the hands and feet of Jesus to the whole world?
Maybe this passage in James is right. Maybe we are just too corrupt and too much of this earth to constantly receive Love and Peace from attempting to love God and others with our lives. We know this is true of us: "Where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind." At least for us, it is tough to live in this world without envy and selfish ambition. It is tough.
How do we find and achieve and maintain Balance in our lives when there is (in general) so far for each of us to journey?
I need your patient love right now -
because I have little patience myself.
I am buried in my own needs,
in my own aches and pains
in my own wounds and wars
to be fully present in your Kingdom
and to reach out to the weak
and the poor and the powerless.
Be patient with me
but help me move forward,
away from my own stuff -
away from my priorities.
And help me to focus
Help me to breathe again.