Choose balance

One hour a week can change your life

In this fourth edition of the Well on the Way series, we will change tack, moving away from the crucial role of self-talk in our emotional health, and start to unpack some of the issues around balance in our lifestyle. You can access the previous three articles on self-talk here.

In these next three articles, I will invite us to reflect. How is balance going in my life? Am I allowing myself time to do the things I want to do? Or is the urgent always pushing out the important? Am I growing emotionally and spiritually, with a keen sense of the Living God leading me? Am I allowing enough space to hear from him, in his word, in meditation, silence and prayer?

Or is stress and busyness becoming my modus operandi? And compromising my emotional health in the process?

Over the next six weeks, as these next three articles are published, I will explore the topics of how (i) balance in my lifestyle, (ii) getting organised and (iii) relaxation/recreation. We will examine how these contribute to overall emotional health. Each article will continue to have a core idea and a practical tip to keep them really useful.

There really isn’t one neat, magic formula to offer, but these are important questions to ask from time to time, and these issues contribute significantly to our emotional health. The core idea here this week is:

Core idea 4: Choose balance

We live in a hyper-busy, hyperactive, hyper-stimulated world, and those three adjectives are enemies of the spiritual life. Just over half of us consider ourselves addicted to our phones, with the average Australian checking their phone 7.8 times an hour.  The 5.5 hours of average daily screen time for Australian smartphone users equates to 33 per cent of our waking hours! I find that quite disturbing.

The list is endless and the demands are relentless.

We juggle our work demands, keeping some fitness happening, maintaining a few friendships, keeping our domestic duties functioning. For parents, there are school activities and homework and endless extracurricular activities. For students, there are essays and assignments and tutorials and research. And for Christians, there is another whole layer of church involvement, Bible study group, ministry service, reading my Bible, mentoring younger believers, prayer groups … The list is endless and the demands are relentless.

It’s no wonder that so many of us are permanently exhausted and that there is a mental health crisis across our community.

Two Christian authors have been helpful to me in this space. John Mark Comer’s book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry (2021, Random House) explores how to apply the ancient Christian disciplines of silence and solitude, Sabbath, simplicity and slowing in the pursuit of staying emotionally healthy and spiritually alive in the chaos of the modern world.

Ruth Haley Barton’s Invitation to Solitude and Silence (2004, IVP) takes us further down the solitude path, sharing her journey – her struggles and her ideas – to become more intentional about protecting this most sacred space.

Interestingly, both these books thank Dallas Willard – American Christian philosopher and bestselling author on spiritual disciplines – on their opening page!

Time to read the Bible and pray sounds so easy and so sensible, but when you start to do it, the reality of a spiritual battle becomes apparent.

For me, as I journey with my husband who was diagnosed with cancer last year, my decades-long practise of an hour a week of God-time has so often been pushed out by appointments. As a result, my emotional equilibrium has at times been seriously destabilised. This has made me realise afresh how crucial my hour-a-week time with the Lord really is.

Look at the example of Jesus. How frequently we see him retreating to lonely places to pray (Luke 4:1-2 and 14-15, Mark 6:30-32, Matt 14:1-13, Luke 6:12-13, Luke 22:39-44, Luke 5:16).

Having a “quiet time” is a timeless Christian practise. Time to read the Bible and pray sounds so easy and so sensible, but when you start to do it, the reality of a spiritual battle becomes apparent. Even a mature missionary friend of mine regularly nominates her prayer and Bible reading as a top prayer point. For me, the 10-15 minutes each day model doesn’t entirely work. It’s too short. It allows no time to quieten the body and mind. No time for deeper reflection or deeper confession or deeper listening.

So here is what does work for me:

Practical tip 4: Take an hour each week

My suggestion is always – just try it once! Give yourself permission to allocate an entire hour, maybe one evening or one morning. Take your Bible, notebook, pen and beverage to your favourite quiet place.  Put your phone on silent. Shut the door.

(When I was a young mum, a friend and I would alternate minding each other’s children to enable us both to get this precious child-free time with God).

Take a few moments to breathe deeply, consciously letting go of all the clutter in your head each time you breathe out. Invite quietness and calmness in on your in-breath. Let your body begin to relax. Let go of tension in your muscles. Let yourself notice how lovely it is to take a few moments of unhurried time …

'The Four and Twenty Elders' by Henry John Stock

In God’s throne room – ‘The Four and Twenty Elders’ by Henry John Stock Henry John Stock/ Wikimedia Commons

My favourite structure for prayer is ‘The Throne Room’.

1. Adoration: Remind yourself who God is. Engage with the image in Revelation 4 of his throne and the elders casting their crowns before him. Or a Psalm of worship (7, 34, 89, 92, 95, 100, 103, 111, 117, 139). Notice the imagery. Join in the worship.

Imagine that this Glorious Person invites you personally into his throne room.

2. Confession at the cross: There is a cross-shaped door to his throne room, reminding me of the cost that Jesus bore to allow me this entry. Take your time here in front of the cross to reflect on all the junk in your heart that needs offloading: the petty attitudes, the distorted motivations, the subtle idolatries of things you desire more than him.

Receive anew his full and free forgiveness (1 Peter 3:18, 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 John 1:9).

3. The throne room: As you come into this sacred space, let yourself imagine the joy on the Father’s face as he sees you. Can you see the love in his eyes for you? The delight of the Father that you are home? (Think here of the Parable of the Lost Son).  This is the safest place emotionally in the whole universe, where you are fully known, fully loved and fully purposed. Let yourself rest in his refreshing, life-giving kindness. Let any shards of fear in your heart be soaked out. (See Romans 8:15, Psalm 18:19.)

4. Self: Here in God’s presence you can process “life”. You can give him your cares and concerns. You can read his Word, pray for others, seek his wisdom, let go of “lies” you have been living with and feed on his truth. I like to imagine a little log fire to dispose of my unwanted lies.

But take your time! Your body, mind and soul need this gentle rhythm more than oxygen to recalibrate and refresh for the days ahead.

Sue Bartho is a clinical psychologist who runs Well on the Way Psychology in Sydney. To read more articles in this series, click here.

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