What’s your reaction to the phrase work-life balance? Does the idea of balance seem aspirational to you, or does it seem utterly impossible? If you’re like me, it feels more like the latter.
There are several major problems with the concept of work-life balance in the ways that I have heard it described.
The phrasing falsely segregates “work” and “life” from one another as if the two never touch. Activism, among many other professions, is often a blend of both.
It also assumes that our obligations outside of employment do not require work. (As the mother of a toddler, this is particularly irksome!)
Most troubling is the underlying mythology that we ought to be able to shift our responsibilities into a harmonious state of balance through sheer determination.
A decade ago I was sitting in a seminary professor’s office when I said, “I want to give equally to all of the pieces of my life.” My concept of work-life balance at that time was an equal distribution of weight. I pictured my life as a balance scale. If I could fill both the “life” and “work” sides with the same amount of effort, they would eventually even out.
After years of failures and frustrations with this model, here is what I’ve learned.
Balance is not static. Balance is a dance.
If you are able, try standing up with your eyes closed for 10-15 seconds. For an extra challenge, try this while standing on one foot. What do you notice about your body? You feel your weight shifting from side to side and from front to back. Your body may move in a circular motion. You may feel trembling, shaking, and even some faltering. These physical efforts, even the uncomfortable ones, are part of what helps us maintain balance.
In yoga class when I am practicing one-legged postures, the teacher will often remind us, “Fix your eyes on something that isn’t moving.” While we need our muscles to work in order to hold us upright, our ability to balance is linked with our focus on what is constant.
As the circumstances of our lives shift and change, we can still find the dance of balance within ourselves.
Last month I wrote about different self-care practices that we can use to restore ourselves. One new resource I want to share are these free guided meditations by Tara Brach. Although I still struggle to make space daily for quiet, I have found these 20-minute meditations to be a source of light and love. I hope they are for you as well.
Like millions of others around the United States and the world, I participated in one of the women’s marches held in January. At a time when I felt discouraged and disheartened about the future of our movements for social justice, the march was a life-giving, inspiring moment that catalyzed my commitment to resist oppression in all its forms. As a person of faith this is the work to which I have been called, and the women’s march helped bring me back to my purpose with renewed focus and vision.
Since November I have been seeking wisdom in discerning what particular part I am being asked to play in this moment in history. What has emerged for me over these past several months is a commitment to building authentic relationships across theological and political differences. That does not mean I am willing to abandon my own religious convictions. To the contrary this moment demands that I cling to them even more tightly. If I am to enter into conversations with those who disagree with me, however, I must also abandon any spirit of hopelessness within myself and adopt a wholehearted, open-minded approach.
As a religious person who supports women’s reproductive decision-making I spend much of my time shedding light on the diversity of religious understandings around women, contraception, and abortion. What I have grown increasingly aware of is my need to deconstruct the misconceptions I have of those who identify as pro-life.
While stopped at a red light on my way home one day I noticed that the two cars immediately in front of me had the same “Coexist” bumper sticker. You’ve probably seen one like it. Each of the letters of is a symbol representing a major religious or spiritual ideology. For example, the “C” is a crescent moon symbolizing Islam, and the “X” is a Star of David symbolizing Judaism.
This was a particularly long traffic light, which gave me time to realize that I was mistaken. In actuality the bumper sticker on the car just ahead of me did not read “Coexist” but “Contradict.” Underneath that it read, “They can’t all be true-John 14:6.” Despite my early days of earnest scripture memorization I couldn’t recall this particular passage, but I had a hunch it was the verse in which Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” I was right.
When I was ten weeks pregnant I gave an impassioned speech in front of the Supreme Court during the Hobby Lobby hearings about why universal access to contraception was part of my own religious understanding. I’d wanted to share about my own planned pregnancy, but at that point I wasn’t far enough along to feel comfortable telling that in a public way.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that would be my last protest for almost three years. After the birth of my daughter I cut my travel significantly. I spent most of my weekends in the cocoon–or what sometimes felt more like the prison–of our home rather than out in the public square. As someone deeply ensconced in the activism world this turning inward felt like I was betraying the causes and the people for whom I cared deeply. How could I be an effective advocate if I couldn’t show up?
Feel free to use any of these images if they speak to you. I will be creating more in the coming days, so if there is a particular passage of scripture you would like me to include, please leave me a comment or contact me through the website.
On this Inauguration Day I have been putting the final touches on my sign that I will carry in the Women’s March in Raleigh, NC tomorrow. It reads, “Love not hate will make America great.”
Though I’m regularly in DC, sometimes several times a month, I deliberately chose to stay home and participate in the local march because I firmly believe that the key to creating a more just, compassionate world is organizing in our local communities.
I say this as someone who has worked predominantly at the national level on issues like paid family leave, maternal health, and access to comprehensive reproductive health care. This focus on the national scene has meant I’ve had little involvement in my home state. We all have to make decisions about how and where we will spend our limited time and energy. But at this moment I feel strongly that I am called to serve and advocate alongside those closest (physically) to me.
Since November I have been in constant prayer for wisdom and discernment of where I am meant to be in this era of Trump. With so many causes pulling at all of us to step up, I have felt overwhelmed. But in the quiet and stillness the phrase that has emerged for me as a guiding value is catalyzing, not culminating.
What do I mean by that? Culminating moments are actions and events that are complete in and of themselves. They may require a lot of preparation, but little attention is paid to the follow-up and next steps. I have been involved–and directed–such activities, whether it was checking off a box for a funder or my own internal box of “things that make me feel good.” They do little to move us forward in the our mission for justice. They are often ego-driven.
On the other hand catalyzing moments are actions and events that spark us onward to the next action we will take together. They bring in new people who are searching for opportunities to be connected with our movements for justice. They are based in deep relationships in which each person is asked to share unique gifts and to value the expertise of others. At the center of a catalyzing moment is the commitment to the mission.
My prayer for the march in Raleigh–and for the marches and actions and events everywhere this weekend–is that they would catalyze us, ignite us, energize us for the marathon ahead of us. May it be so.
For the last year I have had the honor of serving as Chair of the Board of Directors for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). This leadership role often requires great personal and professional sacrifices and yet blesses me tenfold in return. At this moment in history I can think of no more important organization to offer my time and gifts than on behalf of RCRC.
Last week RCRC partnered with Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington (PPMW) to hold an Interfaith Unity Ceremony to honor their brand new health center in southeast D.C. I had the privilege of joining more than sixty clergy, justice leaders, and clinic staff as were led by the Reverend Doctors Dennis and Christine Wiley, co-pastors of the Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ, through an interfaith service of blessing. There was drumming from the all female percussion band Balatá, testimonies from providers and patients, poetry, liturgical dance, a Hindu chant, and a ritual of healing from the shame and stigma surrounding abortion.