The Myth of Work-Life Balance

There is a lot of talk about work-life balance because a lot of people feel like their lives are out of control. They crave a stability, a rhythm, and a pace that is less frenetic. But often the way they think about this equilibrium is flawed so their attempts to fix the situation fail.

The word “balance” is in the subtitle of my book, but my mental model of balance is not the old-fashioned scale with a bar centered on a fulcrum with a plate hanging from each end of the bar. This is a two dimensional, either/or image that usually comes to mind for people when they think of work-life balance. That’s not what I’m talking about.

Here’s an alternative model that might be helpful for you:

Imagine a large dinner plate centered and balanced on the tip of a stick. Got that image in your head? The tip of the stick is God and His kingdom and His perspective. This dinner plate – our life -- balances on this center point. On the outer edge of the plate are the elements of our life: marriage, parenting, work, health, friendships, personal growth, finances, and service/ministry.  (Notice that “faith” or “spirituality” are not on the outer edge of the plate.  It’s already accounted for at the center of the plate.  God is the balancing point of all of our life.)

Now imagine each of these life elements are represented by quarters (as in a 25 cent coins) out on the edge of the plate. You’d need to place the quarters equidistant from one another on the circumference of the plate to keep it from slipping off the tip of the stick and shattering on the floor. If you put too much time, effort, or focus (i.e., too many quarters in one area on the edge of the plate) eventually the whole thing comes crashing down.

This image of balance is much more representative of what I am getting at.  But there is a flaw even in this model because, if you think about it, the quarters out on the edge are separate and distinct and independent from God underneath and in the middle. It is possible to balance a life this way, but it’s compartmentalized because faith is separate from the other parts of our life.  That’s no way to live.

The real trick is to have the center point of God start to influence, inform and impact all the things on the outer edge. In other words, instead of fretting about how many quarters to put where, think about how you can make the center point larger.

How can you grow the size of the tip of the stick?” How can it go from a pin point to, let’s say, the size of your finger tip?  And then to the circumference of a quarter to the circumference of a silver dollar to the circumference of a saucer and eventually to the same circumference as the dinner plate itself.

Still with me? This has the potential to impact you’re joy big time--- if I haven’t lost you yet!

All of this begs the obvious question:  How do we grow the size of the center point - God - so our life is not so tippy?  (Is that a word?)

Here’s one way:

1.      Start with Jesus’s statement in Mark 12:28-31 that there are only 2 commandments that matter: Love God and Love People.

2.      How do you love God?  Here’s an explanation I used this week at a retreat with a group of fathers.  I asked them this: “If your kids truly loved you, how would you know?”  Within 60 seconds they came up with all the correct answers: 

a.      They would obey us. 

b.      They would want to spend time with us.

c.      They would want to know all about us.

d.      They would trust us.

e.      They would do nice things for us.

f.       They would brag about us to their friends.

g.      They’d be concerned about the things and people that we are concerned about

 Voila! There’s your answer for how to love God. No more complex than that.


3.      How do you love people?  By proactively and sacrificially meeting their physical, practical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Crazy simple.

4.      Now here’s the final step: Don’t try to balance your time on the edges of the plate with the right number of quarters in the right spots. Instead, love God and love people by how you manage all the dimensions of your life. This faith-infused life moves you from a precarious, no-win strategy of “compartmentalizing and balancing” to a peaceful, joyful model that’s “well-grounded, fully integrated, and stable.”

Noodle on this for a while. How can you love God and love others in your relationships, with your money, at work, with your health, with your personal ministry? As you bring God and others’ interests into every part of your life, your joy will grow!       

“But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Psalm 1:2 ESV