As my children grew and began to leave the nest, I had thought that life would slow down. It didn’t. In fact, life seemed to be accelerating at a pace that I could no longer maintain. Seeking balance in life, I did an online search for a book. With more than 10,000 options to choose from, I chose instead to turn to prayer and to some of the great spiritual masters, saints, and theologians. What I discovered was that the search for “balance in life” was not the right search. The solution was found elsewhere.
Years ago, one of the reasons that I had been drawn to St. Benedict and his Rule was the balance that he had prescribed for his monastic communities. The Rule is firm yet loving, challenging yet doable.
We are about to open a school for God’s service, in which we hope nothing harsh or oppressive will be directed. For preserving charity or correcting faults, it may be necessary at times, by reason of justice, to be slightly more severe. (Prologue)
Originally, I had observed and appreciated the moderation found within the Rule. However, while reflecting upon St. Benedict’s words, it occurred to me that I had overlooked a significant teaching. In my quest for balance in life, I had focused on the mildness of the program while overlooking one of the most important points.
That elusive key, which permeates the entirety of the Rule, became clear as I re-read the Rule with greater focus, considered the writings of other spiritual masters, theologians, and saints, and conversed with faith-filled people in my life. Through prayer, lectio divina, spiritual reading, and conversations, I discovered the missing element of my search.
What I realized was that “balance in life” is not what we should be seeking. This I discovered while pondering the contrast between the life of St. Mother Teresa and the life of Thomas Merton. St. Mother Teresa led a busy life, her calendar was arguably extremely full. However, Thomas Merton, as he sought a cloistered and contemplative life, had a life that, to the outsider, may have appeared lackluster. Yet, in each case, whether overly scheduled or underwhelmed, both experienced a level of peace—if not balance.
The reason I uncovered is that these followers of Christ were not seeking balance. Rather, and here is the key that I had overlooked in St. Benedict’s Rule, they sought faithfulness to God’s will. At times, being faithful to God’s will demands a busy pace of life. At other times, the will of God demands a halt in activity. The catch is to know God’s will for our lives.
Through my search for balance, I was reminded that to know God’s will requires that we make time for daily prayer and discernment. This commitment to contemplation is challenging in the ceaseless noise of our tech-infused world. Cardinal Sarah, in his book titled The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, observes that “the worldly powers that seek to shape modern man systematically do away with silence.” He also notes that “No prophet ever encountered God without withdrawing into solitude and silence. …Through Sacred Scripture, when it is listened to and meditated upon in silence, divine graces are poured out on man.”
Without question, daily prayer is a must. Yet, it is easier said than done. Daily prayer demands perseverance. Especially when the prayer feels dry. Especially when our prayers seemingly go unanswered. Especially when we do not feel as though we are “getting” anything out of prayer.
In Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, a book about Mother Teresa’s deep spiritual darkness, she is quoted as writing to her spiritual adviser these words: “All these years I have only wanted one thing—to know and do the will of God. And now, even in this hard and deep darkness—I keep on wanting only that. The rest He has taken all . . . The only thing that keeps me on the surface—is obedience.”
Fr. Mike Schmitz, in a podcast on New Year’s resolutions, said that persistence and consistently committing to our prayers or spiritual resolutions is what is needed—not motivation, not emotional desire, but consistent practice. Continuing with the prayers, continuing with the spiritual reading, day after day—that is how gains are made, one small step of obedience at a time.
In my single-minded pursuit for “balance in life,” I had overlooked the part of St. Benedict’s Rule that discusses obedience. Although his instruction contains mildness, it also lovingly demands obedience.
Listen . . . with the ear of your heart . . . so that through the labor of obedience you may return to Him. … First, with fervent prayer, beg of Him to finish the good work begun . . . ‘Come, you children, and listen to Me’ (Psalm 34:11).” (Prologue)
In seeking balance in life, I had stopped listening in obedience with the ear of my heart.
Interestingly, St. Benedict devotes an entire chapter to obedience, noting that “the first degree of humility is prompt obedience.” St. Benedict, although known for his moderation, calls the monks to obey God and their superior in both in their words and deeds, as well as in their hearts (Chapter 5).
If not balance, what, then, should we seek?
The monks of St. Benedict’s monastic communities were not called to seek balance in life. Rather, they were called to obediently follow God’s will as they established a school for the Lord’s service. Faithfulness to God’s will is the hallmark of the Rule, at the center of which, one finds Christ who is Love incarnate.
It is true that rhythm, harmony, order, and (yes, even) balance are important. Yet, I discovered that these will be the fruit of seeking, discerning, and following God’s will.
To determine His will, it may be necessary to ask questions; questions that we can bring forward in daily prayer, in spiritual reading, and to a spiritual director. These questions might include:
- Who am I? Where am I going? How do I get there?
- What are my priorities in life? What should my priorities be according to God’s will?
- What relationships are most important to me? How much time and energy do I dedicate to those relationships?
- Are there relationships in my life that lead me away from Christ? What types of limits and boundaries should I put around those relationships?
- Is there sin in my life? When was the last time I went to confession?
- Am I caring for my health and wellbeing?
- Where am I spending my time? Is this how God would like me to use this gift of time?
Bringing these questions to God can be an important step in finding the direction in life that we seek. It is equally important that we, as St. Benedict states, “listen with the ear of our heart” for the answer. Listening with the ear of one’s heart implies a bending—to understand, to follow, and to obey in humility and love. I had become overfocused on “balance in life.” Fortunately, I was reminded through this journey that faithfulness to God’s will is the goal. Through this faithfulness, we will discover Christ—and Christ is the ultimate treasure that we seek.