A Balancing Act
I remember playing a game as a child in which we would bend one knee and grab our foot behind us and then try to race—limping, stumbling and falling over as we struggled across the grass toward a finish line. That’s what happens when we have only one leg to stand on, or assume that somehow two left feet suffice for one of each.
This balancing act is repeated throughout most of nature. Two eyes to give perspective. Two arms and two hands to provide dexterity. Two sides of our brain that tandem. All these things come in pairs because there are many things in the physical world that work best when they have balance and complementarity.
Finding a Priviate Relaxation Activity
In his highly insightful work, Inside Job, Stephen W. Smith shares the importance of finding ways to rest and relax as part of a healthy, balanced life:
I once read a book in which the author said everyone needed a private relaxation activity—something that was a “no-brainer.” For a friend of his, it was raking leaves in the driveway. For the author, it was ironing his shirts.
For my friend Brian, a CEO of a gas company, it is (believe it or not) washing dishes—much to the joy of his wife Nan and their kids! Brian told me that his daughter Brie sometimes says, “Dad, you look stressed so I am leaving my dishes in the sink for you to wash.” Isn’t that thoughtful?
Going Against the Grain of the Universe
When we fight this work-six-days, Sabbath-one-day rhythm, we go against the grain of the universe. And to quote the philosopher H. H. Farmer, “If you go against the grain of the universe, you get splinters.”[i]
I’ve had people laugh off the call to Sabbath with a terrible cliché: “Yeah, well, the devil never takes a day off.”
Ummm, last time I checked, the devil loses. Plus, he’s the devil.
The last time a society tried to abandon the seven-day week was during the revolution in France. They switched to a ten-day workweek to up productivity. The rise of the proletariat! And? Disaster—the economy crashed, the suicide rate skyrocketed, and productivity? It went down. It’s been proven by study after study: there is zero correlation between hurry and productivity.
In fact, once you work a certain number of hours in a week, your productivity plummets. Wanna know what the number is? Fifty hours. Ironic: that’s about a six-day workweek. One study found that there was zero difference in productivity between workers who logged seventy hours and those who logged fifty-five.[ii] Could God be speaking to us even through our bodies?
My point: This rhythm isn’t the by-product of human ingenuity—the ancient version of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People—that we’re free to adapt or change as we see fit for the modern era. It’s the way a brilliant mind designed our souls and society to flourish and thrive.
Fight it, fight God.
Fight God, fight our own souls.
Adapted from The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World. Copyright © 2019 by John Mark Comer. Used by permission of WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
[i] Swoboda, Subversive Sabbath, 11.
[ii] Bob Sullivan, “Memo to Work Martyrs: Long Hours Make You Less Productive,” CNBC, January 26, 2015, www.cnbc.com/2015/01/26/working-more-than-50-hours-makes-you-less-productive.html.
Overextending Ourselves & The Tyranny of the Urgent
In his highly book, Inside Job, Stephen W. Smith shares the importance of finding balance, even as life seems to pull us in different directions:
Overextending yourself is stretching your physical, emotional, financial, vocational and relational boundaries to the point of depletion. Have you ever heard the expression someone says when the money is running tight? It goes like this: “There’s too much month left at the end of the money.”
Translated this means, “I’ve run out of money to pay all my bills and it’s only the middle of the month.” That’s what happens when we overextend ourselves; there’s more asked of us than we can give. This overextending causes stress to accumulate: the stress at home, in the workplace, during travel—it all piles up like a huge stack of dirty laundry.
Stress, as we all know, is deadly to our health.
Every doctor and therapist will tell you that unresolved stress will “do you in.” Stress works itself out through our blood pressure and attacks our vital organs. Stress releases a toxin that when built up leaves its marks inside of us. We live with a tyranny of the urgent that drives us, manipulates us and sucks passion right out of our marrow and veins. Everything must be done now. Everything has to be quick.
Re-Wilding and Restoring Balance to Nature
In 1995, the gray wolf was reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park after a seventy-year hiatus. Scientists expected an ecological ripple effect, but the size and scope of the trophic cascade took them by surprise.?
Wolves are predators that kill certain species of animals. But they indirectly give life to others. When the wolves reentered the ecological equation, it radically changed the behavioral patterns of other wildlife. As the wolves began killing coyotes, the rabbit and mouse populations increased. Thereby attracting more hawks, weasels, foxes, and badgers. In the absence of predators, deer had overpopulated the park and overgrazed parts of Yellowstone. Their new traffic patterns, however, allowed the flora and fauna to regenerate. The berries on those regenerated shrubs caused a spike in the bear population.
In six years’ time, the trees in overgrazed parts of the park had quintupled in height. Bare valleys were reforested aspen, willow, and cottonwood trees. And as soon as that happened, songbirds started nesting in the trees. Then beavers started chewing them down. Beavers are ecosystem engineers, building dams that create natural habitats for otters, muskrats, and ducks, as well as fish,’ reptiles, and amphibians.
One last ripple effect.
The wolves even changed the behavior of rivers—they meandered less because of less soil erosion. The channels narrowed and pools formed as the regenerated forests stabilized the riverbanks.
My point? We need wolves!
When you take the wolf out of the equation, there are unintended consequences. In the absence of danger, a sheep remains a sheep. And the same is true of men. The way we play the man is by overcoming overwhelming obstacles, by meeting daunting challenges. We may fear the wolf, but we also crave it. It’s what we want. It’s what we need.
Picture a cage fight between a sheep and a wolf. The sheep doesn’t stand a chance, right? Unless there is a Shepherd. And
I wonder if that’s why we play it safe instead of playing the man—we don’t trust the Shepherd.
…Ecologists recently coined a wonderful new word. Invented in 2011, rewilding has a multiplicity of meanings. It’s resisting the urge to control nature. It’s the restoration of wilderness. It’s the reintroduction of animals back into their natural habitat. It’s an ecological term, but rewilding has spiritual implications.
As I look at the Gospels, rewilding seems to be a subplot. The Pharisees were so civilized—too civilized. Their religion was nothing more than a stage play. They were wolves in sheep’s clothing. But Jesus taught a very different brand of spirituality.
Foxes have dens and birds have nests,” said Jesus, “but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” So Jesus spent the better part of three years camping, fishing, and hiking with His disciples. It seems to me Jesus was rewilding them.