Friday, January 22, 2010

Balancing Act

I live my life by a large set of values that are primarily informed by my Christian faith. The Bible, the Spirit, and my neighbors have taught me many lessons about how I want to behave and what choices I want to make. These lessons span a broad spectrum, as evidenced by the miscellaneous nature of this blog, and sometimes it can be hard to organize what I've learned for the purposes of practical living. What lessons and values come into play in each situation? What do I do if my values come into conflict with each other?

Lately I've found myself in situations in which it's not immediately clear to me what choice to make. The wisdom I've gained over the course of my life suggests different strategies and multiple choices, but I sometimes I don't know how to choose amongst those options. If the choices before me are all based on different values, how to I choose amongst them? Consider the following scenarios:
  • I lead a busy life, and the stress can sometimes take a toll on me. I want to contribute in as many ways as possible, but I also want to take care of myself so that I can do my best work. Do I reduce my commitments so that I can have more time to rest and rejuvenate with the hopes that I will do better work in my other pursuits? Or is the work I'm doing important enough that it justifies putting this stress on myself to get it done?
  • I believe that when people are adults, they have to be free to make their own decisions. I can try to convince them, but I cannot force them. I also believe that I cannot just stand by while others are hurt. Where is the line between those two convictions? In the absence of blatant violence, abuse, or infringement of rights, is there a point at which an intervention becomes necessary? 
  • I believe I should behave well towards even my adversaries. Yet, I do not think I should allow people to run roughshod over me or the people I love. I must be able to stand up to them without abandoning my foundation of love. How can I be firm in defense of my convictions without crossing over into anger or aggression?
Each of these scenarios requires me to strike a balance between multiple values. I want to be productive and healthy. I want to give people the freedom choose for themselves, but I also want to protect them from overly destructive behavior. I want to behave with dignity and respect, but I also want to be able to stand up to adversaries who might be willing to play dirtier than I do. I have to figure out how to balance these values and come out in just the right spot. I have to make these determinations on a case-by-case basis, and the answers might not be the same every time.

If you want to physically keep your balance, then you need to pay attention to what your body is telling you and to the environment around you. Likewise, in these abstract situations, I need to pay attention to the specifics of the situation at hand, my own personal state, and God's input. I am not clever enough to read every tricky situation correctly, so I need God's help if I'm going to keep my balance. Am I strong enough to persevere through a busy schedule? Is my friend's behavior harmful enough to require me to step in? What strategy should I use to be strong yet righteous? I may not know the answers to these questions, but God does. He probably won't give me the answers in a booming voice from heaven. Instead, God will probably lead me through intuition, outside circumstances, or even the advice of others. In order to get the message, though, I must be paying attention to what's going on inside and around me.

I cannot blunder through life based on a narrow set of values. My values are only a starting point. If I want to live gracefully, then I also need balance, and that means listening to God and accepting assistance when I don't know what to do.

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