I’ve been on the hunt for the ever-elusive “balance” for most of my adult life. In college, I tried to juggle a full class load, multiple part-time jobs, and being involved in groups on campus. Then came the juggling act of trying to balance friendships, family and a dating relationship with my now husband. After graduation, the juggling act continued in my new role as a wife, writer and, eventually, mother.
Despite my best efforts though, I’ve always felt like I’m giving someone (or something) the short end of the stick. For instance, when I worked outside the home as a new mother, it seemed I could focus on my daughter or my work projects, but never both well. My natural inclination to say “yes” to every opportunity that presents itself certainly doesn’t help either.
However, I’m relieved to discover that my search for balance is finally over. It’s not because I’ve found the golden answer and magically discovered how to do it all. Instead, a conversation with a friend drastically shifted the way I’m approaching this years-long hunt for balance.
In fact, I’ve given up on balance.
It’s not because I want to live a life that feels constantly off-kilter. In fact, in my current season as a young mom of two girls aged two and under, I’m even more hungry for it than ever before.
But instead of longing for balance, I’ve started establishing order in my daily life.
At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be a difference between the two concepts. But the meanings and origins of the words themselves reveal a contrast. The word “balance” originated in relation to balancing out two things on a pair of scales with the goal of equality in weight. On the other hand, “order” comes from the Latin “ordinem,” which means to put things in a row, to create a pattern, or to establish a routine.
Instead of aiming to give everything in my life — my relationships, responsibilities, desires and dreams — the same weight and frantically trying to balance them all without something (or everything!) crashing down on me, I’ve spent the last few months reexamining my priorities and putting all things in order. This means some things rank higher than others and, much to my type-A chagrin, some things are left behind.
To find order, I have to admit that it’s not possible for me to have it all together, but I can order my life well. I can give some things my all, even if it comes at the expense of having to say no to other things.
If you’re ready to exchange balance for order, here are a few of my favorite pieces of advice I’ve picked up from friends and mentors along the way.
Start by putting first things first
It goes without saying that, when ordering our lives as Catholic women, regardless of the season or state of life we find ourselves in, our relationship with the Lord and our prayer life should get first place.
Not too long ago, I was in confession sharing my struggle to make time for daily prayer. I mentioned to my confessor that time for prayer was often found at the bottom of my never-ending laundry pile. Some days, I didn’t even get around to spending time with the Lord. He looked at me and said something that changed the way I approach prayer in my daily schedule:
“Take prayer time off your to-do list.”
He wasn’t giving me permission to walk away from prayer time on busy days. Instead, he was reminding me that prayer doesn’t belong on my to-do list at all. It goes way before the to-do list and should be the top priority of the day.
“Individual prayer is not a luxury we try to fit into our packed schedules,” Kimberly Hahn explains in her new Scripture study, “Graced and Gifted.” “It’s a necessity! We remember who he is, who we are, and why we are doing what we are doing.”
Without making space first for prayer in your day, nothing else will be ordered well. On the days that I’ve made time for prayer, I not only have time for the rest of what needs to be done that day, but the Lord also gives me greater clarity and peace about the things that I can’t finish that day.
Next, make space for yourself
When I was desperately looking for some semblance of balance in my daily life, I often neglected myself. During college, I even struggled with making space for eating in favor of taking someone’s work shift or finishing up a paper that was due. It seemed selfish to make time to rest when there were so many people who needed things from me and so many things to check off on my to-do list.
But in this new season of striving for order instead of balance, I’ve realized that time for honoring my dignity as a beloved daughter of God has to land much closer to the top of my list of priorities. Not only does taking time for authentic and holy self-care help me to remember my worth, it also disposes me to love others around me well.
“To fulfill the second greatest commandment — according to Jesus, to love your neighbor as yourself — you must love yourself,” Kimberly reminded me.
For me, ordered self-care as a young mom means things like making sure I’m fed in the morning before I sit down to spoon oatmeal into my toddler’s mouth. It also means forgoing unloading the dishwasher or tidying up the house on my way back to bed after midnight baby feedings. It also means making space in the day to move my body in exercise that I enjoy, like walks with the girls through the neighborhood.
But this self-care goes much further than the basics of rest, nourishment and movement. It also means making space in our family schedule for things I enjoy, like reading or spending time in the garden. When I’ve placed a higher priority on self-care, I’ve found that I’m not only more joyful in general, I’m also able to be much more present and Christ-like to my family and friends.
Look at your relationships and roles
After you’ve placed time with the Lord at the top of the list, followed by time to remember your dignity and worth as his daughter, it’s time to look at the people and responsibilities that the Lord has invited you into.
If you’re married, the next item to order should be your relationship with your spouse. Your role as wife is to be the main channel of grace for your husband. Then, the fruit of your vocation is next — your children.
But regardless of your vocation, the season of life you’re in and the people you share life with are not a hindrance to holiness. They’re your path to holiness. Whether it’s your spouse, your kids, roommates, friends, siblings, or parents, an ordered life creates space for you to encounter the Lord through and in them.
“You find your path to holiness in your state in life,” Kimberly explains. This means that order is not found in finishing your to-do list of school work, job responsibilities, and other commitments to make room for “holier” activities. Instead, we can strive to find deep, spiritual meaning in all of our daily tasks.
When I keep these three things in the right order (my relationship with God, myself, and those I love), it’s much easier to discern other opportunities that come along. Saying no to things has become easier, and I’m able to give the things I say yes to an enthusiastic response because I can evaluate everything in light of this new order I’m establishing.
My life doesn’t look drastically different these days from when I was searching for balance. I’m still a sleep-deprived young mom who sometimes dozes off into my coffee as I sit down to pray in the morning. But now, my approach to my days, weeks and even months has dramatically shifted. If you, too, are frustrated by your search for balance, I’d encourage you to look into creating a way of life, a way of order, in your daily life!