Earlier this fall, I was attending a leadership summit in a suburb of Chicago. Following our sessions one afternoon, I went for a power walk before dinner. Adjacent to the conference center was a cemetery. Because reading old headstones in a graveyard is one of my favorite pastimes, my aspirations of getting my heart rate up gave in to my curiosity as I looked down at the markers.
One tombstone in particular captured my attention. It marked the final resting place for a family by the name of Balance.
Balance? Really? I’d never seen that word as a name before. For one whose mind delights in word play and double entendres, I had to smile. Balance was dead.
Before me was living proof that balance had been a casualty of life. What was relationally true for this Chicago-area family, has been emotionally true for me at times in the past when my schedule was out of control. And I know I’m not alone. Balance is that easy-going, less-than-obvious reality that doesn’t call attention to itself. We tend to take it for granted. We don’t realize how key it is to a happy life until it’s gone.
When balance bites the dust, panic thrives. Life becomes chaotic. A kind of grief sets in. Inner peace plays hide-and-seek. When balance has ceased to be a reality in our lives, the consequences are endless. They include debt, illness, depression, a short temper, drug use, alcohol abuse and over-eating.
If ever there is a time when taking urgent care of balance is critical, it’s now. This is the season of the year when maintaining a healthy balance between demands and desires is at-risk. Advent, Hanukkah and Christmas can easily find balance on life-support.
Just looking at my own schedule at work is enough to rob balance of its breath. There is a tree-lighting ceremony, a St. Lucia breakfast, a poetry reading tea, four holiday concerts, three Advent lectures, two staff parties and an all-campus carol sing-a-long. (Were you expecting a partridge in a pear tree?)
And then there’s my own personal calendar of writing the family Christmas letter, addressing the Christmas cards, shopping for family members and workmates, wrapping those gifts and helping my wife decorate the house.
Add to all of the above the fact that Christmas Day falls on Sunday this year. Bah! Humbug! Once again, a day meant to be spent with family is threatened by the demands of the church calendar. Without an infusion of creativity, balance is definitely headed for the intensive care unit.
Your schedule is likely just as complicated. The commitments on your calendar may be different than mine, but the outcome is equally as stressful. With apologies to Dr. Seuss, it’s not the Grinch we have to worry about. It’s the lack of balance that threatens to steal Christmas (and ultimately our health).
To that end, may I suggest reflecting on the lyrics of one of my most-loved contemporary carols. In “Breath of Heaven” (written by Chris Eaton and recorded by Amy Grant) there is recognition of the weight waiting for Christmas finds us carrying as well as the pressures that cause us to stoop navigating life in a less-than-perfect world:
I am waiting in a silent prayer. I am frightened by the load I bear, In a world as cold as stone. Must I walk this path alone? Be with me now.
In silent prayer and honest reflection, we just might find guidance in how to reduce the activities that typically define our December. We just might discover that Immanuel (God-with-us) is with us, providing us the means to keep balance alive.
In the case of Christmas Day being on Sunday, for me there is hope. Balance will not succumb this year to the life-threatening complications with which I have to contend every six years.
With the concurrence of colleagues, we decided to pre-record our Christmas Day worship service and broadcast it on our closed-circuit television channel a few times on Sunday. A hack we discovered during COVID proves helpful once again.
Now, what other ways can I simplify this season?
Guest columnist Greg Asimakoupoulos is chaplain at Covenant Living at the Shores in Mercer Island.