Balancing Balance, Part III: Do I Have the Right to Choose My Filters?

In the last article, we defined personal filters and discussed the importance of choosing the correct primary filter so our lives go in the direction we want. We said that personal filters are a person’s conscience and wisdom working in tandem to direct her life. We observed that most of us live in a state of give and take between our outward, service-oriented choices and our inner, self-oriented choices, which is what we usually mean when we speak of balancing our lives.

A reader asked an astute question: “I have been contemplating if part of emptying ourselves should be losing the filters of “Do I want to do this?” or “Is this my preference?” Those are hard questions for me-when is it “okay” to make decisions based on those filters?”

Well, that certainly gets to the heart of things for christians, doesn’t it? Christ calls us to think and act in a lot of scary, radical ways. Philippians 2:1-8, which tells us to imitate Christ’s example, is full of phrases like “[have] lowliness of mind”, “esteem others better than himself”, and “taking the form of a bondservant”. Christ said each of his disciples must “take up his cross daily and follow… .” He speaks of those who lose their own lives for His sake as the ones who actually find their lives. Nearly every page of the Bible contains something to remind the child of God that self-direction is the opposite of what we are called to become.

So, how can I maintain balance in my life and still be a servant of Christ? In a certain sense, I don’t think I can. Losing my life for His sake implies a distinct lack of self-direction. And, the idea that time is a commodity that belongs to me to use as I see fit is simply not true. Look at this long-ish quote by C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters:

“…Now you will have noticed that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him. It is the unexpected visitor (when he looked forward to a quiet evening), or the friend’s talkative wife (turning up when he looked forward to a tête-à-tête with the friend), that throw him out of gear.
Now he is not yet so uncharitable or slothful that these small demands on his courtesy are in themselves too much for it. They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption “My time is my own”. Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which he has to make over to his employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties. But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.
You have here a delicate task. The assumption which you want him to go on making is so absurd that, if once it is questioned, even we cannot find a shred of argument in its defence. The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift; he might as well regard the sun and moon his chattels. He is also, in theory, committed to a total service of the Enemy; and if the Enemy appeared to him in bodily form and demanded that total service for even one day, he would not refuse. He would be greatly relieved if that one day involved nothing harder than listening to the conversation of a foolish woman; and he would be relieved almost to the pitch of disappointment if for one half-hour in that day the Enemy said “Now you may go and amuse yourself”. Now if he thinks about his assumption for a moment, even he is bound to realise that he is actually in this situation every day.”

This excellent way of looking at the issue is confirmed by the example of Jesus, Himself. After healing Peter’s mother-in-law so completely that she jumped up to serve them, Mark 1:32-34 says:

“Now at evening, when the sun had set, they brought to Him all who were sick and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. Then He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons…”

One can easily imagine Jesus reclining at table after supper with his new disciples, talking together companionably. The doorbell rings, and the conversation is interrupted with first one request for help and then another. Soon, there is no point in closing the door because the arrivals are continuous. Whatever plans He may have had to teach something to His disciples or go to bed early, Jesus’ compassion and sense of duty compelled Him to act in the best interests of the people around him.

On the other hand, Jesus did not choose to spend all of His thirty-three years on earth running a one-man health and healing clinic. He did not heal every diseased or demonic person in the world or even in Palestine. Healing was only part of the work the Father sent Him to accomplish, and He balanced that task with teaching, rebuking, and discipling. Further, not all of His time was spent serving others. After the evening of healing in Capernaum, the account continues:

“Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.”

We see a life comprised of different activities, some outwardly-directed and some between the Father and Him, and it seems clear that Jesus considered those private times to be as necessary as the service-oriented work. Of course, we know He also ate, drank, slept, visited His friends, and accepted invitations. He spoke to individuals and large crowds. He attended holy festivals in Jerusalem. And when His greatest task was immediately before Him, He let all of those activities fall away one by one to accomplish His ultimate purpose. The time for balance was past.

From Christ’s example and everything else I can find in the scripture, I think we learn at least four things about the use of our time:
1. Our time and our tasks are from God – “…I do not seek My own will but the will of Him who sent me…”
2. My tasks are various and time-consuming.
3. I get the same amount of time (in the day) as everyone else, but my tasks may be different as per my circumstances and talents – see parable of talents and Jesus’ conversation with Peter about feeding His sheep and what might be willed differently for John; also epistles’ discussions re varying roles in the church.
4. About the order of my tasks: “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” remember that Mary chose the good part, and don’t forget Hebrews 13:21 – “[…may the God of peace] make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well-pleasing in His sight…”

Beyond that, I think we have to choose what to do and when – I think we have to balance.

That is the hard part for most of us. If only God gave me a daily schedule, then I could just work through the list and tick off each item as it was completed. He doesn’t operate that way, however. He asks me to compare the possibilities with the principles in His word, to figure out the priorities, and do my best to glorify Him with all of it.

In this I am still very much a learner. I see two issues, one having to do with decisions about how to spend time on things that do not involve duty or necessity and one about when I am unsure whether an activity ought to be a duty for me. (There is also a third issue about how much of life is given to entertainment, but we’ll talk about that in a future article.)

When I am deciding how to spend my “free” time, that half-hour God may give me to “go and amuse” myself, personal filters are really valuable. They help me choose whether to paint the front door, whether to commit to a regular exercise routine, and whether to volunteer to host the baby shower. Because none of these activities is a necessary duty before God, I sift them through the filters of available time, ability, and, yes, desire, which is appropriate here.

The harder thing sometimes, as far as I am concerned, is determining whether a particular task is a duty or one of those optional extras. I speak specifically of various talents we have been given. When I do not possess the talent, the decision is easy – nobody in their right mind would want me to be the accountant of an organization. I am terrible at math, and I never remember what I owe others or they owe me unless I am reminded. So, in good conscience I refuse all requests to handle that sort of thing. But what about something I can do? Does ability always equal responsibility? What if my ability is an activity that takes large amounts of time to accomplish? Is it right to sacrifice/choose-not-to-do some other activities that could be handled by others in order to allow me to work in a more specialized area?

I am struggling with that very decision in my own life when it comes to writing. Writing takes a tremendous amount of my time and energy, so for most of my life I have permitted myself very little of it so as to not neglect the necessary duties of mothering my children and caring for others who need my service. But as the children are reaching adulthood I sense a need to re-evaluate. I am praying for an answer, and I believe God has an answer for me, but I am not sure what it is or how I will know when I have it! Once I do, it will become another of my filters to help me order my time, and if it turns out that I am writing it will necessarily mean I have less time to devote to some things I have been doing.

In fact, just now while I am working on this article and have achieved clarity of thought and good flow, I am presented with a time and task dilemna to send through my personal filters. It is late Saturday afternoon. I have been alternating writing with housework and cooking all day. My husband and one of our sons are mowing the grass at the church building, a job that takes several hours. I just remembered that this month is our team’s turn to clean the building. My husband is the team leader, and because we have been out of town I doubt he has had a chance to get volunteers to do the various jobs there. Therefore, the building probably will not get any attention before worship tomorrow unless our family takes care of it. Also, I prepped the ingredients earlier in the day for our weekly pizza supper, but I still have to make the dough and assemble the pizzas and bake. Should I stop writing and go to the building to clean toilets and run the vacuum? Then supper will not be ready until very late and I won’t finish this article. Should I stay home and keep writing and then make dinner as I had planned? Then the building won’t get cleaned. Dear God, couldn’t you just give me a checklist?

Personal filters, rightly considered, serve most of us pretty well. They keep us from becoming overextended and overdrawn. They help us have healthy bodies and relationships. They check our impulses and stimulate our higher aims. They require, however, a conscience well-trained in truth and all the wisdom we can muster. And for christians, they require a primary filter labeled, “Does this please God?”

Have these essays helped you identify any of your personal filters? What are they? Which part of balancing life comes easily to you and which part is hard? Let’s have a conversation!

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5 Comments

  1. Posted October 10, 2011 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    I’m just now catching up on this series . . . . wonderful work, Lori.

    You asked the very question that plagues me: “Does ability always equal responsibility?” I have struggled with the necessity to say “no” to things I “could” do so often lately. I feel guilt over these decisions, and I appreciate your comments on personal filters/balance: “Personal filters, rightly considered, serve most of us pretty well. They keep us from becoming overextended and overdrawn. They help us have healthy bodies and relationships. They check our impulses and stimulate our higher aims. They require, however, a conscience well-trained in truth and all the wisdom we can muster. And for christians, they require a primary filter labeled, ‘Does this please God?’” Thank you.

    I’m left to wonder how your Saturday afternoon dilemma was resolved . . . . hopefully with the whole family pitching in to clean the building after the wonderful pizza dinner Saturday evening?

  2. Posted October 10, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Lori, what a timely piece. And, your writing is how the Lord works through you, in my opinion. I, too, struggle with writing-it is something I truly love and wish I could do more of it.
    I feel like God gave us this gift and He wants us to use it. The questions you have are not easy-I have the very same dilemmas! I think we all do, and just putting it out there shows that we are all human and while this earth is not perfect, no matter how desperately we want it to be, if I know in my heart that if I do it for the Lord, then I am making a move in the right direction. Hope your weekend turned out okay. Thank the Lord for also giving us humor to deal with these things-I know I have been laughing at myself alot lately. I have to, or I would cry. You and your family are such a blessing, thank you for sharing this wonderful blog!!!!!! Love, Andi

  3. Posted October 10, 2011 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    How did the Saturday evening dilemma turn out? Well, our daughter volunteered to go to the building and do some work while I stayed home and finished the article and made the pizzas. She got the bathrooms thoroughly cleaned. The vacuuming didn’t get done, but it had been done well a week ago and was good enough. So, I suppose you could say the ESSENTIALS got taken care of. Flex, flex, flex is the word around this household sometimes!

  4. Rachel
    Posted July 18, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    May I make one more request on your time? Please do not give up all writing. I have found this article (as well as the others I’ve read) to be very helpful and grounding. Remembering that my time is never really “my own” but belongs to God and His purposes first could be the greatest challenge for all of us. Thank you for affirming this perspective of reality for those of us trying to balance while the storm is blowing in.

    • Posted July 19, 2012 at 6:21 am | Permalink

      Rachel, your kind words are a boost to me this morning as I sit down to write. I am glad you find value in some of what I write. May God bless us all as we seek to serve Him.

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