“Her [Jane Austen’s] perfect balance and good sense did not diminish her liveliness. Her intellectual qualities did not prevent the enjoyment of a dance, or attention to the most domestic duties.”—Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters, by Austen’s great-nephew William Austen Leigh, italics added.
A Balance or a See-Saw?
How do we find “balance” in our lives? Does such a thing even exist? I think of balance as a scale like this, where equal amounts in each pan make it straight and even. My life doesn’t look like that.
One thing is usually weighted much more than the others, until something else becomes urgent—it’s more like a see-saw than a balance. Or even like a pile of see-saws, all in different positions. The word “teeter-totter” might be a better name, as I feel I’m “teetering” on the edge of falling off!
Right now I feel pulled in different directions by work. I want to write, and feel frustrated when I can’t. Yet I have other types of work that are important and meet people’s needs. God is calling me to a variety of tasks; how do I balance them? And how can all my different roles fit together, as part of my identity?
A friend of ours balances two very different jobs. Years ago, an occupational aptitude test showed that he needed a combination of jobs to be happy (to find joy!). His roles are not really balanced, however. Each has periodic demands, and sometimes one completely absorbs him for a time. But after a few weeks he needs to focus on other responsibilities to restore his joy. Sometimes he can balance both jobs; other times he see-saws between them.
My “balance” may look like that. I can focus on writing at times, and on other work at other times, and find joy in both.
On a see-saw, when one end is on the ground, we need to push off with our legs. It takes a specific effort. I get bogged down in one role, tangled in details and enslaved to my compulsion to complete every detail. I sometimes need to consciously release and focus on other needs and projects.
My time and energy and abilities are limited. Saying yes to one thing means saying no to another (good) thing. These choices are my see-saw—now this, now that, but not trying to do everything, particularly not everything at once! And not any one thing for too long.
Balance in Jane Austen
Jane Austen’s life was a see-saw. Some years she focused on writing, while other years she had to focus on family, social, and household responsibilities. In her novels, some characters find balance and others do not.
In Sense and Sensibility, Marianne’s emotions fluctuate like a see-saw. When she’s feeling down, she gets stuck in the mud, unable or unwilling to push off and move upwards. Her sister Elinor also goes down, but she focuses on her duties to people around her rather than on herself. This gives her balance. Marianne finally resolves to better regulate her life “by religion, by reason, by constant employment” (chapter 46). Her emotions will be balanced by worship, reflection, and work.
Captain Harville in Persuasion finds balance in a variety of work. Wounded and unable to be at sea for a time, he looks after his bereaved friend Captain Benwick, whose fiancée recently died. But he also finds usefulness and happiness in other ways:
“His lameness prevented him from taking much exercise; but a mind of usefulness and ingenuity seemed to furnish him with constant employment within. He drew, he varnished, he carpentered, he glued; he made toys for the children, he fashioned new netting-needles and pins with improvements; and if every thing else was done, sat down to his large fishing-net at one corner of the room. Anne thought she left great happiness behind her when they quitted the house . . .” (chapter 11).
Captain Harville finds happiness in creatively doing what he can do, in all its varieties, and not regretting what he can’t do. I want to find that kind of joy in whatever “good works” I can do at a given time (Ephesians 2:10), and be ready to move from one focus to another regularly.
Austen mentions a see-saw in Northanger Abbey. John Thorpe shows his lack of sense and taste when he describes one of Austen’s favorite novels, Fanny Burney’s Camilla. Thorpe says, “there is nothing in the world in it but an old man’s playing at see-saw and learning Latin” (chapter 7). In Camilla (chapter 3), the gardener sets a plank across the trunk of an old oak so that the children can play on a see-saw. Their uncle Sir Hugh is worried that little Eugenia will be hurt. When she begs to play, he sets her on his lap, while several other children ride the other end of the see-saw. However, he gets dizzy, drops her, and falls on top of her! His excessive concern leads to an injury. Another lesson in balance; a lack of balance can cause damage.
How do you find balance in your life? What are the important people, needs, work, and projects in your life right now that need your attention? Can you keep your see-saw moving so that you don’t get stuck focusing on one thing for too long and neglect others? Can you see each change as an opportunity from God to rest in Him amid your changing circumstances?