Balance has always been important to me. I thrive on variety and fear being one-dimensional, so I dabble in a host of things, contorting myself as I try to keep them all suspended mid-air.
Until just recently, I felt almost cocky when it came to balance. I thought I had it down.
That’s when the whole concept of balance knocked me off my feet. And I do mean that literally.
A few months ago, I found out I had vertigo. My first thought was of Jimmy Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock’s film of the same name. How could that be? I just felt a little dizzier than my default dizziness.
Sure, I stumbled getting out of bed, but that’s nothing for a drowsy person of my advanced years. But after I scraped my left arm three or four times on the hallway at work, I began to take notice. I walked lopsided, pulling to the left like a car out of alignment. And then at the end of the day, when I turned off the light, my bed started spinning, picking up speed until it resembled my favorite Tilt-a-Whirl ride. I knew something was wrong.
The timing could not have been worse. That week, I had five commencement ceremonies at work (undergrads, graduates, and branch campuses). I scheduled an appointment with my doctor, immediately. Maybe she could give me some heavy-duty antibiotic and knock this bug out of my system.
Instead, she had me close my eyes and try to stand still. I thought it was a sobriety test. Her office spun like a top and I almost fell over.
“You have vertigo,” she said. How could she be so matter-of-fact? “Here’s how you treat it.”
She started ticking it off on her fingers. No medicine. Not good. No coffee. Bad. No driving or flying until you’re OK. Really, horribly bad.
“But you don’t understand, Doctor. I have a long commute; it’s my busiest week; I come home late and leave early; and then this weekend, my husband and I fly across the country for my nephew’s wedding, and we leave the reception on a red-eye flight home to catch another overnight flight. To Eastern Europe. That’s back home for me. I can’t miss this trip!”
She seemed unaffected.
So I begged. “Please. Isn’t there some kind of shot?”
She shook her head. “But there is something. It usually works in a few days.”
She showed me an “exercise,” called the Epley maneuver, that seemed so simple I felt like reporting her for malpractice.
- Lie still.
I had to fall back on the examining table with my head dangling over the edge and turned toward my problem side. Then I had to lie still. No moving at all. As I lay in that position, anxiety beckoned me to raise my head and ask her what in the heck this was supposed to fix.
That’s when a verse flooded my mind. “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10, NIV). It’s as though God himself whispered those words into my imbalanced ear.
But … I can’t. I can’t stop. But, Lord …
Be still. Cease your striving.
It’s counter-intuitive to stop when you’re busy, but that’s the most necessary thing. To sit at God’s feet and listen to him.
I used to preach at people all the time about building margin into their overloaded lives. I mean, I committed the main points of Richard Swenson’s book Margin to memory years ago.
“If you don’t, you’ll be pushed up against the limit with nothing left over in reserve,” I’d say with a smug smile.
Yet, when I tried to cram a master’s degree around the already fraying edges of my full-time job, I had no margin. None whatsoever. If I were to slow down, I was afraid I wouldn’t get cranked up again. So I kept going.
Why is my first inclination always to take control, get busy, and try to fix it? To do something? Anything! Instead, what I’m so often desperate for is to slow down. To stop. To just be.
That day, lying on the doctor’s table, I gave in. I stopped fidgeting. I lay there, breathing in, breathing out.
“Now it’s time for the next step,” the doctor said.
- Align your position.
She turned my head toward the other side, the good side. She said that this would re-position the crystal debris in my inner ear. What! Crystals? Debris? In my ear?
After a spell, she turned my head and body 90 degrees farther in that same direction. My alignment had gotten off-kilter, and I needed to be re-calibrated. Somehow, I’d veered off course. My path wasn’t level, and I needed to find that solid footing again.
Sometimes you get thrown out of whack. You’re so busy with work and life that you lose perspective. Your devotional times are rushed or non-existent; you don’t have enough family time; you have no creative outlet. Your house is a mess, your children are out-of-control, and you’re exhausted. Sleep and exercise are often the first things to go, but if you get sick, you’re no good for anyone. Especially not yourself.
Can you identify? If you’re out of balance and sliding to one side or the other, you need to be re-aligned.
I thought of another verse as I lay immobile. “He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand” (Psalm 40:2, NIV).
I wasn’t standing yet, but I felt ready to try.
- Pay attention.
As the doctor helped ease me to a sitting position, she cautioned me to be conscious of how I walk. “Think about each step you take. Pay attention to whether you pull to the right or to the left.”
As I slowly walked out of her office, I realized that it wouldn’t be easy, in the midst of a busy week, to be aware of things that seem so insignificant.
Being still is essential to being conscious. It’s in the quiet moments that you can best listen for the Holy Spirit’s small voice. “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (Isaiah 30:21, NIV).
As you rest, you gain perspective. Your vision can shift away from the things clamoring for attention and onto the author and perfecter of your faith. “Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways” (Proverbs 4:25-26, NIV).
Concentrate on the basics and let other things, the less significant ones, fall away—for now. Eyes straight ahead, looking toward Jesus. Left foot. Right foot. Get in step with him.
That week I faithfully performed my Epley maneuver three times every day and thought about each step I took. I realized my doctor had left out one essential point: Don’t worry. Try not to stress about being unbalanced. Stress is part of what got you into this predicament. That and the crystal debris.
When I’m overwhelmed with my too-full life, I can’t sleep because it’s all on my mind. Something about putting my head on the pillow makes my to-do list magically rush to the front of my brain and gain nightmare proportion. As sleep eludes me, I add to my anxiety list the fact that I really need to be sleeping right now. Worrying makes it even harder to drift off. I can’t win.
One of the most vital lessons I learned as a young believer is this: Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is to take a nap. Your outlook on life and your energy level can be transformed.
Keep your sense of humor. The funny thing about balance is that you never really achieve it. Not perfectly, anyway.
As women, we want to do it all. But we can’t. Maybe—just maybe—in a lifetime, you can do a little of everything that interests you, but never all at once. Not without sacrificing something (or someone) to the altar of unrealistic expectations.
That’s not fair, you may say. But who promised fair? Loosen up and flow with the seasons. In certain seasons, you have to concentrate on some things and defer others. If you give it time, that season will pass. Another one will come along, with its own unique opportunities, and its own limitations.
Stop striving. Listen for God’s voice. Make sure you’re lined up with him. And relax.
If you concentrate on being instead of doing, your balance has a chance to right itself. My vertigo got fixed in just four days. But keeping my equilibrium with a scheduled stuffed full? Now that’s a lifelong challenge.