Brent L. Top, “A Balanced Life,” Ensign, Apr 2005, 26–29
A few years ago, while on vacation, our family encountered some problems with our car. Great was our relief when the mechanic informed us the problems were not serious; all that was needed was a minor adjustment to the carburetor that would allow for a more balanced mix of gasoline and oxygen.
In the years since, I have had many opportunities to see that a proper balance is important not only in machinery maintenance but also in our own lives. A periodic tune-up of our personal priorities and a regular inspection of the direction and desired destination of our lives help insure us against temporal, emotional, and spiritual breakdowns.
Keeping the daily demands of life in balance is one of the great tasks of mortality. All of us may feel pulled in different directions at some time or another. We may even carry to an extreme our efforts to live gospel principles faithfully, thus upsetting the delicate balance of our lives and intruding upon our personal peace and family harmony.
My wife, Wendy, experienced this difficult situation. For years she had nearly exhausted herself, thinking she had to be the perfect wife and mother, the perfect Church member, the perfect neighbor and citizen. Instead of feeling joy, she often felt overwhelmed and discouraged. Her frustration was further exacerbated when well-intentioned leaders and friends seemed to indicate that if she had enough faith, she would be able to accomplish all these things. Only after a personal crisis of depression and anxiety was she able to understand fully the source of her suffering. It was a painful time not only for her but for our entire family. We have grown stronger and learned many lessons as a result. But perhaps we could have been spared much of the pain if we had more clearly perceived the need to maintain temporal and spiritual balance.
When I served as a bishop, I discovered that my wife’s experience was not unique. Likewise, Elder Dean L. Larsen, an emeritus member of the Seventy, observed, “I seem to be encountering more and more frequently in my circulation among the membership of the Church, people who are honestly trying to avoid sin, who are really doing their best, as they understand, to live in accordance with the principles of the gospel but who are unhappy, frustrated, and disillusioned to a considerable degree.” 1
King Benjamin warned his people about going to extremes, even in doing good: “See that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength” (Mosiah 4:27).
Maintaining Temporal Balance
The imbalance between the temporal and the spiritual is an age-old problem that seems to be growing worse in our day of increasing materialism. Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles observed, “Perhaps none need the principle of balance in their lives more than those who are driven toward accumulating ‘things’ in this world.” 2 Moreover, numerous good and honorable causes beckon for our time and energy. Whether selfishly or unselfishly, we may get and spend, hurry and scurry, come and go, and later discover that we have laid waste our emotional and spiritual strength and given our hearts away to things that matter very little in the end. The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob, paraphrasing Isaiah, warned, “Do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy” (2 Ne. 9:51; see Isa. 55:2).
It is easy to feel that to magnify our callings we need to be continually serving, leading, or counseling. However, it may be that we render more significant service and develop more substantive spirituality by having fewer meetings and activities. President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) urged the Saints to return to what he characterized as “quiet, sane living.” 3 More recently Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated, “Remember, don’t magnify the work to be done—simplify it.” 4 Our lives are out of balance if we allow outward busyness to supplant inner goodness.
In striking a temporal balance, we are often forced to make hard choices between many good and desirable things. For example, varied educational and cultural experiences can be valuable in promoting talents and growth in our children. Church and community service opportunities may provide us with rich and rewarding experiences. But even when considering such noble causes and activities, we must, as Elder Ballard counseled, “remember [that] too much of anything in life can throw us off balance. At the same time, too little of the important things can do the same thing.” 5 It may be that the worst thing we can give our children is the opportunity to participate in an additional sport, music lesson, or other activity that demands money and time away from the family. Teaching our children how to live “quiet, sane,” and balanced lives may be one of the most vital things we can do for them in these frenzied last days.
Sometimes we fail to resist many of the demands placed upon our time because we are afraid such an action might be selfish. Yet the Savior Himself would sometimes withdraw temporarily from the pressing needs of the multitudes (see, for example, Luke 5:16). Surely this helped Him serve others with renewed strength.
To preserve the temporal balance of our lives, we may need to say no to those activities for which we do not have time, resources, or energy. We need not feel guilty or selfish in periodically pulling back to regroup, for there is a strength that comes from sometimes just being home with loved ones.
Maintaining Spiritual Balance
Just as temporal imbalance can affect our emotional and spiritual peace, so can spiritual imbalance have a detrimental effect on every aspect of our lives. To maintain a proper spiritual balance, we must remember that the Lord does not expect us to achieve perfection while in mortality. The unrealistic expectation that we must be perfect in all we do right now actually retards true gospel living and stifles spirituality. When we fall short of our preconceived notions of perfection, we tend to browbeat ourselves with undeserved self-criticism and guilt or to exhaust ourselves with unrealistic efforts to work our way to perfection.
King Benjamin’s counsel not to run faster than we have strength is as significant spiritually as it is temporally, perhaps more so. A key phrase in King Benjamin’s counsel is “be diligent” (see Mosiah 4:27). We must remember that much spiritual growth does not occur suddenly but rather through time and experience. The encouraging message of the gospel is that God does not often require us to perform sensational or extraordinary deeds but rather to try to do better today than we did yesterday. He is mindful of our desires, our determination, and our direction as well as of our deeds.
To maintain spiritual balance, we must frequently take inventory of our spiritual progress. Honest assessment of the desires of our hearts and the direction of our lives can aid us in overcoming feelings of inadequacy. Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles provided us with this inspiring counsel:
“We can distinguish more clearly between divine discontent and the devil’s dissonance, between dissatisfaction with self and disdain for self. We need the first and must shun the second, remembering that when conscience calls to us from the next ridge, it is not solely to scold but also to beckon.
“… We can contemplate how far we have already come in the climb along the pathway to perfection; it is usually much farther than we acknowledge. …
“… We can make quiet but more honest inventories of our strengths. … Most of us are dishonest bookkeepers and need confirming ‘outside auditors.’ He who was thrust down in the first estate delights to have us put ourselves down. Self-contempt is of Satan; there is none of it in heaven. We should, of course, learn from our mistakes, but without forever studying the instant replays as if these were the game of life itself.” 6
One of the barriers to spiritual balance is “pseudo-self-reliance.” Robert L. Millet identified the danger of relying too much on our own limited abilities. He said that some Church members who are blocked in their progress and weighed down with guilt “seek to double their effort—to work harder. If the present pace does not eradicate the problem, they decide to run faster. Too often what follows is a type of spiritual diminishing returns—exhaustion and additional frustration. The answer to all problems is not necessarily more and harder work, particularly in regard to spiritual matters. The answer is often to learn our limits and do what we can, then turn to the Lord for assistance.” 7
Applying the Atonement
While my wife was struggling to escape from the cycle of faithful works followed by frustration and discouragement, the Spirit of the Lord whispered to her that what she was demanding of herself was not pleasing to the Lord because she was not allowing the Atonement to operate fully in her life. It is not a sign of weakness to avail ourselves of the Atonement. Rather, it shows courage, faith, and gratitude. The Atonement allows us not only to repent of sin but also to receive an outpouring of the Savior’s grace, which strengthens us when we simply do not have the power to overcome our human weaknesses. It allows the Savior to share our burdens and compensate for our many inadequacies (see Matt. 11:28–30; Ether 12:27).
There is no peace for those whose lives are out of balance temporally or spiritually. They can become tossed to and fro by the winds of discouragement and the storms of frustration. Yet just as the Savior stilled the storm on the Sea of Galilee (see Matt. 8:26), He can bless our lives with His calming, comforting, and guiding influence if we will slow down, run only as fast as we have strength, and yet “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ” (2 Ne. 31:20).
[photo] Photograph ©Goodshoot
[illustration] O Jerusalem, by Greg K. Olsen; may not be copied
[illustration] Christ in Gethsemane, by Harry Anderson
4. “The Doctrinal Foundation of the Auxiliaries,” Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, Jan. 10, 2004, 8.