Friday, January 31, 2014

Both/and

Sometimes I get really confused.

A perfect example showed up in this month's copy of Christianity Today, in the 2014 Book Awards.  Under the category "Spirituality," there are two winners and at first glance, they couldn't be more different.

The first is entitled Death By Living and the second is called An Unhurried Life. Death By Living is based on the carpe diem premise that "life is meant to be spent" and is described as "sweaty with urgency."   Meanwhile, An Unhurried Life is about living more by doing less and finding balance between work and rest.

These two books reflect a growing dichotomy in the Christian world I live in.  On the one side, we have those who call us to live radically, to leave it all on the field, to pour it all out.  They quote Jesus and his call to sacrifice everything for the Kingdom. We need to do more, more, more because the need is great and the urgency is overwhelming.  They roll their eyes when there is talk about finding balance or when mission is defined as staying in your own ordinary life and being more loving on a small scale.  "There is a world to save!" they cry.  (I've noticed that the books, at least, are mostly written by men.)

On the other side, we have those who want us to do less and be more.  Their books often have tea cups or flowers on the covers.  They remind us that our pace is insane and that we need to slow down, that more is not always more and that the spiritual life is about reflection and prayer and love in ordinary life.  They point to Jesus and what they call his unhurried life but they also tend to quote Mother Teresa and her idea that we can do no great things for God, that we can only do small things with great love.  They roll their eyes when there is talk about big initiatives and kingdom building and robust discipleship.  It seems that these books are often written by women.

Most of you have already started to wave your hands in the air, ready to interject:  "But can't it be both/and?"  Well, sure.  I mean, we all know that's the right answer.  But how exactly do you pull that off?  I can't figure out how to do both more and less without losing my mind.

Or maybe it's more true to say that every time I find a balance that works for me, I hear the voices that say that I'm foolish for pursuing balance, that God doesn't ever tell us to live balanced lives but rather to live our lives full of passion and radical sacrifice.  And then, when I find a productive pace that feels energizing but also leaves little time for friendships and reading, someone warns me to slow down, to reflect more, to have more margin.

It makes me a little crazy that at my age, this is still so hard.  I'm still trying to find my own path among the voices, a path I can live with somewhere between Death by Living and The Unhurried Life.


2 comments:

Electric Monk said...

My variation on this is being overwhelmed by the day-in-day-out, and then realizing that I don't do ANYTHING compared to what I wish I could (or think I should) be doing. So despite feeling tired and behind all the time, despite just wanting to STOP, I need to go faster faster FASTER!

Jim Herrington said...

What if we just let men want to save the world and women want to find balance (a rough paraphrase of what I think you said). Rather than either being wrong, let's learn to live in mutual submission to one another in ways that men are deeply influenced by women and women are deeply influenced by men. It would be messy but we might just end up - all of us - being different in a good way. For me that's not a both/and. It's what Stephen Covey calls a third way.