Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Bruce Miller's new book, Your Life in Rhythm, (Tyndale House Publishers, 2009).
The pressure of trying to keep every part of your life – work, relationships, church, recreation, and more – in balance each day only leads to frustration and burnout, no matter how hard you try. Meanwhile, all around you, the natural world moves in rhythms – from the seasons changing and the sun rising and setting to your heart beating and your lungs breathing.
If you stop the futile effort of trying to live in balance and instead live in harmony with life’s natural rhythms, you’ll accomplish what matters most with less stress and guilt.
Here's how you can get your life in rhythm:
Get off the balance beam. It’s unrealistic to give proportionate effort to every dimension of your life every day, because life doesn’t stay the same every day. Life is dynamic – constantly changing – and to live well, you need to adapt to those changes. Trying to live a balanced life puts an impossible burden on you, and you’ll struggle to keep up with all the daily demands. No matter how hard you try, you’ll end up feeling frustrated that you’re not spending as much time with your spouse and kids as you should, not keeping up with your friendships enough, not meeting all your work deadlines, not serving enough in church, not maintaining your house and yard well, etc. So free yourself from our culture’s pressure to live a balanced life.
Appreciate life’s natural rhythms. God has planned the right times for everything. Sometimes it’s time to work hard; sometimes it’s time to rest and recover. Sometimes it’s time to grieve; sometimes it’s time to celebrate. Certain days, weeks, and months are different from others, just as you go through different stages of life, from infancy to old age. Rather than trying to achieve the same balance regardless of what time it is for you, focus on one season at time.
Create a life mission statement. Think and pray about why you’re alive and what you should do with your life. Then write down a mission statement that will guide you to live intentionally. It will help you make the most of your time by giving you boundaries within which your life’s rhythms can flow.
Become a wise steward. Take stock of who and what God has made you responsible for – from being a good parent to your kids, to being a good employee on the job. Keep your stewardship responsibilities in mind when making decisions about how to use your time well during every season of your life.
Pay attention to both cycles and seasons. The world is structured into five ongoing cycles (year, quarter, month, week, and day). In addition, you go through a variety of different seasons in your life that make it either the right or wrong time for certain activities – from the birth of a child and the death of a parent, to starting a new job and getting laid off. Rather than exhausting yourself trying to do everything in balance at the same time, aim to do various activities in rhythm at different times.
Live in sync with your current life stage. All of your time is ultimately in God’s hands, so ask Him for the wisdom you need to understand what’s appropriate and what’s not for the life stage you’re in now. How old are you? What’s your marital status? Do you have kids, and if so, what stage of life are they in? Have recent changes just affected your life in profound ways – from the diagnosis of a serious illness, to a move or the start of a new job? Once you understand what distinct time of life you’re in right now, you can figure out how to live well within that stage.
Release unrealistic expectations. You can increase your peace by letting go of expectations that don’t fit your current rhythms. Rather than trying to live in a different season than the one you’re in – like single people who wish they were married or young people who wish they were older – trust that God has placed you in this particular life stage right now for a good reason and decide to live fully while you’re in it. You’re right where God wants you to be for now, so make the most of it.
Seize opportunities. Enjoy the blessings of your current season by seizing the opportunities God brings your way to learn and grow to the fullest. Live in the present, without pining over a past season gone by or demanding that the next season start before its right time in the future. Don’t resent the challenges of the season you’re going through now. Instead, pray for God to give you His perspective on it so you can notice the abundance of opportunities it presents. For example, if you have to rehabilitate from an injury right now, don’t focus on your physical limitations, but appreciate the extra time you have for personal reflection and activities you may not have had time for before, such as catching up with old friends or taking a class that interests you.
Anticipate what’s next. Whenever you feel stuck in your current life stage, remember that it won’t last forever. There will be an end to changing diapers when your kids grow older. You’ll soon graduate from college and be done with the pressure of constantly taking exams and writing papers. Increase your hope by anticipating the next season in your life. While it’s true that you can’t predict with certainty what will happen in the future, you can anticipate what life stage you’ll likely enter next, and look forward to it. Use the power of anticipation as motivation to complete your current responsibilities well. Do your best for as long as you’re in your current stage, so you can move into the next one with no regrets when the right time comes.
Pace yourself. Instead of trying to manage time, allow your life to flow in harmony with time’s cycles. Pay attention to your biological clock, which tells you when your body needs food and sleep. Don’t force yourself into an arbitrary schedule to try to balance your life; design your schedule around what’s most natural for you. Release yourself from the pressure of all of your responsibilities coming to bear at one time. Figure out the most appropriate times for certain activities – such as paying bills at a convenient time once a month, instead of whenever they happen to show up in your mailbox – and arrange to do those activities at set times without worrying about them at other times. Consider how often you should do various activities – from going on a date with your spouse to doing laundry – and plan to do them at appropriate intervals rather than trying to do too much all at once.
Build life-enhancing rituals. Create healthy routines that are connected to some deeper meaning or significance and practice them regularly. Rituals can help you achieve your mission in every part of your life and renew you in the process. Come up with monthly rituals like visiting your grandparents every month, weekly rituals such as going to church each week, and daily rituals like exercising at a gym every day and eating dinner with your family each night. But stay flexible, always bearing in mind that your days will be different, so you may enjoy your rituals most days but not all days.
Oscillate between work and rest. Just as Jesus oscillated between times of intensity and renewal, so should you. Sometimes it’s best to work hard; sometimes it’s best to rest well. Be sure to give your full attention to whatever season you’re in. When it’s time to work, don’t get distracted by other things. When it’s time to rest, don’t let work projects interfere. When deciding when it’s best to either work or rest, be sure to keep in mind factors in your personality, such as whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert and whether you have the most energy in the morning or the evening. Think through the best flow of an ideal day for you. When would you like to wake up and go to sleep? When would you tackle your most difficult jobs? When would you renew yourself? Then consider the best days of the week to do various tasks, as well as the best times of each month and year for other activities, like scheduling a conference to work or vacation to rest.
Keep eternity in view. Ask God to help you see your life from an eternal perspective so you can make the best decisions – ones that will use your time on earth to make a positive impact that will last forever. Make God your top priority, and place people as a higher priority than things, because people have eternal value, while things don’t last. Invest deeply in your relationships, doing all you can to serve other people and bring honor to God. Constantly sort through your busyness to decide what really matters eternally, and focus on that as you live your life in rhythm.
Adapted from Your Life in Rhythm, copyright 2009 by Bruce B. Miller. Published by Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Ill., www.tyndale.com.
Bruce Miller is the founder and Senior Pastor at McKinney Fellowship. He has studied at University of Texas at Austin, University of Texas at Dallas, and Dallas Theological Seminary, where he taught theology for four years. Bruce also speaks at, consults for, and founded the Center for Church Based Training, where he served as Chairman of the Board for 12 years. He is the co-author of The Leadership Baton. Bruce and his wife, Tamara, have been blessed with five children – four boys and a girl. They reside in McKinney, Texas.
Original publication date: May 18, 2009