Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Balance Defined as Self-Control

Extremes in living in those who have unhealed emotional wounds left over from their childhood which, left unattended often results in addiction – often in “religious addiction” for the Christian. I'd like to point out a simple insight I had about the balance of health some time ago, as I've been thinking quite a bit about it since using a life graph to illustrate the immaturity that we can sometimes carry over into adulthood. Maturity which results when we accept and manage our immaturity produces self-control and balance. I hope that this post will also help people understand aspects of spiritual growth and some of the struggles of living the Christian life related to overcoming the unhealed wounds of childhood with which we all struggle to some degree.


A few years ago, I started going to one of those 30 minute exercise places for women, and someone there offered a weekly session of yoga which I affectionately called “Yoga for Old Ladies.” It brought me two really precious opportunities, along with the physical exercise benefits. I know that yoga stimulates a part of the brain that causes a person to think about how their body feels, and this has a very healing, soothing effect on overactive survival survival mechanisms within the brain when a person suffers with post-traumatic stress disorder. The teacher was kind enough to let people pay for single classes, and this gave me a nice opportunity to watch the habits of the instructor. I was thrilled to see that it was not the “militant” type of yoga that the yoga zealots practice, complete with the spiritual stuff as the primary focus. It also included none of the things that concerned me about yoga, specifically the spiritual practice of chanting “om” at the end of a session, weird music, and the practice of “toning” through voicing specific sounds which is meant to yield spiritual benefit. This safe zone didn't last very long for me because when the class progressed to a more complex level, the instructor added in the chanting and toning, so I dropped the class.

Gift #1: A Gentle Witness

When I stopped taking the classes, I had an opportunity to witness to several people and had cause to consider how “confession is made unto salvation” in Jesus and how I worshiped God, even called the Word who creatively spoke the universe into existence who upholds all things by His word of power. I felt deeply convicted that I had no business saying anything but “Jesus” in a state of deep relaxation, and I could go home and recite and sing Scripture if I needed to tune my spirit with frequencies of sound for spiritual benefit. It gave me cause to affirm liberty, for several women in my class who were Evangelical Christians had liberty to continue, though I could not. I put Paul's advice into practice about honoring those who had liberty to eat meat sacrificed to idols, and I did so with grace in my heart for them, something I didn't always have in my younger years when I felt very threatened by people who held ideas that were different from mine.

This was not out of compromise, but when the class shifted from exercise into a spiritual discipline, I didn't feel my old “touch not, taste not” compulsions to be a type of “spiritual policeman” for other people who were on a very different page in their life and religious experience. Yet, I boldly and lovingly spoke about my reasons for believing when asked, even though not everyone received me as charitably as I treated them. My withdrawal from the classes spoke volumes to more people than if I had stood to preach on a street corner, as did my by ability to speak with those concerned without using shame or self-righteousness to talk about my own convictions, turning them into condemnation for others. Jesus draws us gently to repentance with kindness, so I after his example, I aspire to let truth and consequences speak instead of voicing condemnation which tears away trust. His is a gentle and sweet voice which honors our will to choose, and it seems almost as if conviction arises from within us, as He speaks truth. Jesus saved the harsh voice of judgment and condemnation for the religious deceivers and charlatans who claimed to be following Judaism as He did.

Gift #2: The Epiphany of Balance as Managing Tension (Self-control)

The experience did give me a really wonderful gift that I never expected. The body positions, as I wrestled with my physical disabilities taught me a very simple but insightful thing about the concept of balance. I have some old injuries which make it very hard to maintain some of the positions which are eased into gently but also help a person “find their edge” of what they can tolerate to increase their flexibility and mobility. While working hard to find this “sweet spot” of work, new growth, and safety all in one, I had a grand epiphany about what balance really is, the very goal of my physical body in that moment of trying to move my body into the best, safest and healthiest posture for me on that particular morning.

Over the past few weeks when writing about what immaturity looks like, using both pendulums and a life graph of emotion as a way of describing balance, I could not help but be reminded of my “yoga for old ladies” epiphany, too. I have always tended to think of balance as a magical and etherial place of ease, characterized by fluffy clouds and lofty ideals. The movement of a sensitive scale is so delicate and fine, it almost causes me to hold my breath when I see the remarkable device come to a place of equilibrium as if something marvelous and automatic is taking place. I also tend to think of an elderly Jewish sage in a robe and sandals, considering the Bible's wisdom literature which speaks about wisdom through proverbs which sometimes seem to elude me. But suddenly, as I was actually sweating to hold a place of balance which caused me to stretch my rigid spine, extend and lengthen my arms and remain stable on my feet without wobbling like a newborn fawn who was standing for the first time, I realized that balance was not a place of ease but a place of work, holding competing forces in tension.

Looks effortless?  HARD WORK!
When I think about it since that moment, it seems to make perfect sense, perhaps because balance itself was an experience that I felt eluded me most of the time. It was an ideal that I was supposed to exemplify but could never really attain. Perhaps this was because I never viewed it as work but instead saw it as a place of ease. I also began to see it as a place and an experience that drew on my ability and willingness to exercise self-control. Balance became a place of self-control and discipline which brought to mind the Apostle Paul's words of “buffeting the body.” I would not think that stretching to stand firm and still in a static position as buffeting which brings to me an image of a marathon runner who pushes himself to the brink of his ability. For me, in my experience, what I was doing was reaching for the edge of my limitation to in order to stretch and grow, and that was just as significant for me as the marathon athlete who sees the crown of achievement in his sport. It required determination and a desire to hold my body's natural state of comfort and the goal of stretching, fitness, and physical strength through exertion in a place of balance for me, a place unique from all others, yet nonetheless a place of great effort with a desire to do so with grace and excellence.

This epiphany, as the sweat beaded up on my brow, had an instant spiritual meaning for me. It is not an easy thing to be “in the world but not of it.” It is the hardest work in the world. I also thought of fellow believers who are among those who are “harder to love” because they “grate against me,” like iron sharpening iron, shaving tiny bits of those aspects of myself that need to go in a process of challenge. I am a unique person in the world, but I do not blend into the world without a little understanding from others and a little conformity or transforming to find that place of balance. And I was reminded that my flesh is at enmity against God, but that I am being transformed daily, and that too is a place of death to what I want so that God's character and God himself can increase in me. Those forces of change in me are not places of rest but places of birth and growth and new beginnings, all going on every day. Certainly I have seasons of rest, but I suddenly saw balance as a place of work.

Because of the great comfort we draw from our faith or should draw from it in times of need, I think tat I ended up tricking myself into believing that my spiritual life should be something it is not – a place of stasis and rest where time ceases to exist. It is certainly a place of restoration and safety, but since my epiphany about balance, I no longer see it as a place of frozen statis.

Even when thinking of a scale that is used to measure balance and find balance, items resting on the scale create tension. In that sense, the scale or balance serves to manage tension and measure it. The device is not one created to facilitate rest but to make a statement about work and contrast. And I am still pondering that I even needed to have an epiphany about that it all. Balance is about managing forces that pull us in two or even more directions, like an acrobat who strives and reaches to find a place of mastery.

On a life graph, this looks like a life lived within a zone of balance between extreme happiness and sadness. With a pendulum, this looks like a life that doesn't swing too far away from a place of plumb, pulled there by gravity, the force of stability. As Christians we have a force of gravity that pulls the weights that encumber us into alignment – we have the truth, and truth will balance us if we don't struggle against it, never letting us swing too far to one extreme or the other. And the Holy Spirit which builds and writes the Word of God into our hearts gives us the marvelous capacity to find self control, that strength which allows the absolute miracle of balance of a million different forces pulling us into a million directions. But then, without Him, we can do nothing. And how grateful that God places the holiness of Jesus on the scale when he measures those who have faith in him when it comes to the judgement of legalism. Without Him, we are weighed in the balance and found wanting under the Law. In Christ, our faith in Christ imputes our sins to Him, and we are reckoned as righteous and holy because we are free from the Law, even as He works in us to bring that holiness into reality. But when it comes to the scales of judgment, He balances them Himself with His righteousness out of His great love for us.

Not an endorsement of any of the sources of these quotes, and many of the sources I do not recognize. Wise observations about the world can be made by all sorts of people, whether they have “the right world view” or not. Many of the quotes immediately bring to mind certain verses of Scripture, proving that there is nothing new under the sun, a quote from a source that I do wholeheartedly recommend. I just hope that these quotes provoke you to think about balance as a work and an art, and the true artist makes hard work look effortless. Maybe you've had similar thoughts? Maybe you might grow to think some things like these ideas? Thinking is key. Balance is work, not effortlessness.

Toleration is the greatest gift of the mind; it requires the same effort of the brain that it takes to balance oneself on a bicycle.
Helen Keller

For me it's important to be in balance. To not let fear get in the way of things, to not worry so much about protecting yourself all the time.
John Frusciante

When a man asks himself what is meant by action he proves that he isn't a man of action. Action is a lack of balance. In order to act you must be somewhat insane. A reasonably sensible man is satisfied with thinking.
James A. Baldwin

The man who has sufficient power over himself to wait until his nature has recovered its even balance is the truly wise man, but such beings are seldom met with.
Giacomo Casanova

Just as your car runs more smoothly and requires less energy to go faster and farther when the wheels are in perfect alignment, you perform better when your thoughts, feelings, emotions, goals, and values are in balance.
Brian Tracy
Most people get a fair amount of fun out of their lives, but on balance life is suffering, and only the very young or the very foolish imagine otherwise.
George Orwell

Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.
Thomas Merton

An excellent man, like precious metal, is in every way invariable; A villain, like the beams of a balance, is always varying, upwards and downwards.
John Locke

The best and safest thing is to keep a balance in your life, acknowledge the great powers around us and in us. If you can do that, and live that way, you are really a wise man.

Almost every wise saying has an opposite one, no less wise, to balance it.
George Santayana

Man maintains his balance, poise, and sense of security only as he is moving forward.
Maxwell Maltz

Nowadays, the process of growth and development almost never seems to manage to create this subtle balance between the importance of the individual parts, and the coherence of the environment as a whole. One or the other always dominates.
Christopher Alexander

We define organic order as the kind of order that is achieved when there is a perfect balance between the needs of the parts, and the needs of the whole.
Christopher Alexander

The breaking wave and the muscle as it contracts obey the same law. Delicate line gathers the body's total strength in a bold balance. Shall my soul meet so severe a curve, journeying on its way to form?
Dag Hammarskjold

We've just learned how to balance ourselves a little better so that we're happier way more of the time than not, and, you know, being happy is a
radical and desirable act if you ask me.
Anthony Kiedis