Welcome to mid September, when the realities of your classes, maybe a job, some club involvement, and church attendance are starting to set in. Somehow, in there, you need to find time to eat, shower, do your laundry, and even sleep.
Everyone seems to say the answer to all of this is “balance”. For the longest time I thought it was the answer too. If I found balance in my life, I would stop swinging between extremes. I would eat more healthy meals, have more sleep, and do less of that frenetic fake studying (you know the kind, where you’re snapping and instagramming the whole time, when you should be studying).
Finding balance usually looks like finding a rhythm, forming habits, and generally just staying in the middle between extremes. You know, trying to become a morning person, trying to eat better, and trying to exercise. All of these are great things, and are important to our health, but we’re missing the mark if we think pursuing “balance” will totally solve our problems. The more efficient you become, the more you think you’re able to handle, and so you add more. It’s this never ending cycle that I’ve found often leads to people feeling overwhelmed and desperate.
That was my experience during my last year of university at Queens.
I hit a wall in November. I was on the leadership team for Power to Change on my campus, and I was struggling to keep my head above water. I didn’t even realize how much I was struggling until I woke up one morning wishing I hadn’t woken up at all. I was so overwhelmed by all of my tasks and responsibilities. I was an extrovert who suddenly had nothing to say to anyone. I was done.
I reached out to a few people, and a book I was advised to read was, The Pressure’s Off by Larry Crabb. I learned a few incredible principles from that book. One tool I still use is a simple diagnostic to help me understand why I am so stressed or upset by something.
Crabb invites the reader to ask, “Do I love this thing more than I love God? Do I want this thing more than I want God?” The point is not to become disappointed in ourselves or harden ourselves to the reality that, yes, we want __(fill in the blank)__ more than God right in this moment. What we need to do is stop and figure out why.
I remember one evening, that November, I took a walk up William Street in Kingston, near where I lived, and wrestled with myself and God. Why did this thing (for perspective, I don’t even remember what it is now, 10 years later) matter more than God to me? Why did I feel like I desperately needed to succeed in this thing? By the end of the walk, it was resolved in my heart. Everything would be OK. I had Christ. In the grand scheme of things, this is all I needed. I went into that paper, or exam, or whatever it was, with a sense of peace and a new way to resolve the tensions in my heart for years to come.
I’ve noticed a permeating idea in our culture that if we do A and B, then C will happen. If I study the most, I will get the best grade. If I graduate cum laude, I will get into my top grad school choices. If I get on the football team, my dad might notice me again. Whatever it is, we assume that A+B=C. Sometimes this is a true statement. Working hard pays off, but not always. The world is dynamic, and circumstances are impossible to control.
Jesus invites us to live a different way; a way where God is fully in control and present with us. Where we recognize that He is there in our moments of success and failure. A life that involves surrendering our desires, work, and expectations to Jesus and entrusting the results to him. Being affirmed that our worth and value and purpose are not wrapped up in our productivity or achievements.
We study to the best of our ability, while believing that our Creator has us in the palm of his hand. This enables us to sleep peacefully at night. The A- isn’t going to kill us. Your Asian parents might want to, but ultimately you’ll be ok.
As your first papers are coming due and your midterms are creeping up, remember to ask yourself the question: Do I want x more than I want Jesus?
We need a saviour every day. We need to be saved from our obsessions with marks, food, or status. We need to be saved from our competitiveness, our arrogance, or our emotional instability. We need someone to force themselves into our lives to bring about a complete transformation, and this is why “balance” is stupid, and a misdirection, in our lives. Attempts at balance lead us into more formulaic, math-like, thinking. “If I could only just become a morning person, then … well …” What you really mean is that then you won’t need Jesus. Right? Ouch.
When we realize that we’re trying to make a formula out of our life that squeezes out any need for God in our life, we must realize how misdirected we are. We must realize that we are on a dangerous path towards self-glorification (look what I accomplished!), which stands in direct opposition to our true purpose, which is to bring glory to God.
So this school year, I invite you to ditch life-hacking and start doing everything with God. Read the words of Christ, invite the Spirit’s wisdom into your studying, and let God carry the burden of the hard and important work you are taking on.