A Balanced Life

A Balanced Life February 21, 2020

Anonymous: Reading Outside/ Pixnio

We all need to take care of ourselves. Leisure and rest are necessary parts of our life. We must not overburden ourselves with work, for that will only lead us to suffering a break down. Spiritual masters from Siddhartha the Buddha to St. Anthony the Great have not only come to this conclusion, they taught it to their disciples. [1] Thus, in Ecclesiastes, we are told there is a time and place for everything, including rest:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;  a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace (Eccl.. 3:1-8 RSV).

This is also true in regards to our reading habits. While it is important for us to keep abreast with the news of the day so that we do not ignore the injustices which lie before us, we must understand there is also a time to put it all aside. Sometimes, we need a break from such serious reading, lest it overcomes us with despair. We need to be nurtured even as we need to nurture others. We need rest to make sure we have the strength needed in order to confront injustices such injustices. If we don’t know when to rest, we will find out that eventually, we will be so overwhelmed we won’t know what to do with ourselves.

If we only focus on what is wrong with the world, looking for something new to confront on a daily basis, we will end up feeling bogged down and useless. We need rest. We need time for ourselves, time to reflect upon the good things in life, to laugh, to enjoy what we have, indeed, to find joy in our lives. We need, therefore, not follow the news, we need to engage whatever books, movies, music which will lift us up in our spirit, transposing us beyond the tragedies of life.   We need to be reminded that life is more than a series of tragedies which we overcome. We need, as J.R.R. Tolkien understood, a way to escape it all and feel the jubilation which life can bring. The arts can bring this to us.

How much focus on the news, especially bad news, is too much? It depends upon us and our particular needs. Some, like C.S. Lewis, probably should avoid the news altogether. Others, like Dorothy Day, should moderate their intake of the news, balancing it out with something positive to help give us hope. Thus, during a time of war  Dorothy Day suggested that we put away the daily paper and read and study what is going on once a week while taking the time to explore a diverse amount of reading material in order to make sure we do not get caught up in the present without being nourished by the wisdom and joys of the past:

BOOKS [TO READ] IN WARTIME: Labyrinthine Ways. To The End of the World. Kristin Lavransdatter. Master of Hestviken. Jeremiah. 1 Kings.

People live, eat, sleep, love, worship, marry, have children, and somehow live in the midst of war, in the midst of anguish. The sun continues to shine, the leaves flaunt their vivid color, there is a serene warmth in the day and an invigorating cold at night.

Turn off your radio. Put away your daily paper.

Read one review of events a week and spend some time reading such books as the above. They tell too of days of striving and of strife. They are of other centuries and also our own. They make us realize that all times are perilous, that men live in a dangerous world. In peril constantly losing or maiming soul and body.[2]

We need to have a greater perspective than what can be found in the daily news.  Without such a broad perspective, it is easy to get entangled by the rapid changes happening around us. We would have no basis by which to judge those changes, making it that much harder to know what to do. It would indeed be easy to hear what is being said by those in authority without questioning what they tell us. We need to realize that there will be no golden age, that all times are perilous, but we also need to realize that many of the difficulties which lie before us today are difficulties which others faced and they can provide us with wisdom and advice concerning how to deal with it. Being stuck with the daily news, no matter the source (paper, internet, radio, or television) without a greater context only makes sure we are easy targets for propaganda, either by those who try to invoke a golden past which they want us to restore (even though it never existed and can never exist), or by those trying to invoke a golden future, a utopia, which no one has been able to produce (and would likewise result in many tragedies in the attempt to make such a utopia).

But we need to do more than that. We need to find hope in the present moment, even when there is so much wrong going on around us. We cannot neglect the needs of others, selfishly looking only for ourselves, but on the other hand, we need comfort and rest. We need to enjoy life. In the midst of so much evil like war, life goes on, and with it, the joys of life go on. We should not be ashamed if we rest and find things which we enjoy and use to lift up our spirits. The world is good. Life is good. We don’t need to read only serious works of history, philosophy, or literature; we can and should also take and read other things, from comic strips which make us laugh, to flights of fantasy which help us, even for a moment, make us feel free from the problems of life.  We are meant to enjoy life; it is a gift given to us by God and if we neglect that gift, if we ignore the good which is before us, we will fail to understand what it is we are fighting for when we fight against injustice.

As we fight for others, we must not neglect our own needs. We must balance them out. We must make the most of our time, as Paul said: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 3:15-16 RSV).  The world is filled with wonderful gifts from God for us to enjoy; the world is also filled with all kinds of great treasures, great works of art but also not-so great works of art, all kinds of leisurely games and novelties made by others which we should also enjoy.

We must make time for ourselves, for it is only then we can truly be who we are meant to be, capable of moving on and doing the work which only we can do to help make the world a better place.


[1] See The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 3-4 and my reflection on that saying in A Time To Rest.

[2] Dorothy Day, The Reckless Way of Love. Notes on Following Jesus. Ed.  Carolyn Kurtz (Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2017), 93.


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