Lessons from the Balance Beam

By Marjorie Foerster Eddington

Balance is one of the most fundamental aspects in our lives because it keeps us from swinging to the extremes and falling down. The Bible tells us, "Let your moderation be known unto all men" (Phil. 4:5). But ironically, balance often seems elusive, or even to some, not that important. Not only is leading a balanced life possible, it is also key to leading a fulfilling and happy life.

Why is balance important?
According to Webster, balance:

  • is "mental and emotional steadiness;"
  • it's "physical equilibrium;" and
  • it "bring[s] [us] into harmony or proportion."

Balance gives us "poise, composure, stability, consistency, confidence, self-assurance, calmness, imperturbability, level-headedness, discretion, common sense, reason, wisdom, judgment, discernment" (Rodale's Synonym Finder). Who doesn't want more of these qualities?

How can we bring balance and all that it offers us into our daily lives?
As a gymnast, I learned to balance on the 4-inch wide beam. When I first started to walk on the beam, my coach told us to look towards the end of the beam, not straight down at our feet. If we looked at our feet, we wobbled or fell. It took a lot of courage for a six year old to trust and to look forward, but it paid off. When I got better and started doing cartwheels, handsprings, and flips, I had to be absolutely centered from preparation to landing if I didn't want to fall off the beam. I was also taught to spot my landing, which required focus. On blind tricks, where you couldn't see the beam before you landed, you needed an amazing sense of stability, confidence, judgment, and trust. Of course I had my share of falls, but that's part of the learning process.

The skills that gymnasts learn for balancing on four-inches of wood transfer beautifully into every-day life.

  • Look forward, out in front of you (towards the end of the beam), not at your feet.
    Looking forward requires that we look out, away from ourselves, away from our own little world. When we look ahead, we automatically have a wider view. As a result, we see beyond our immediate circumstances and gain a better perspective on life. Rather than being short-sighted and turned inward, we see long-term consequences of our actions and are more aware of others. As a result, we are able to walk more securely in a direction that will not only bless us but also will bless those with whom we share our lives. Looking up keeps us from running into things, enables us to see the beauty around us, and keeps us open to all the good God has planned for us.
  • Be absolutely centered.
    In order to be balanced, we have to put God at the center of our lives. God has to be our number one priority. When we get our life right with God, then we have healthy relationships with our families, friends, classmates, colleagues, etc. We may find ourselves pulled in several different directions at the same time. That's when it's time to get quiet and listen to what is best for us to do, which isn't always what we want to do. But if we are centered on living a life to glorify God, then we'll be able to tell when we're spending too much time watching TV and not enough time reading and thinking; or spending too much time at work and not enough time with the family; or getting really good at sports but not being able to pass our classes; or listening more to what our friends think is important than what we ourselves, our parents, or God thinks is important. Centering our lives on God will help us make wise decisions.
  • Look where you want to land; focus.
    Spotting your landing is critical for successful completion of a trick on the beam. But it's even more crucial in life. If we want to accomplish something, we need to know what to do to achieve the goal. Then we need to focus. The Bible says, "Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil" (Prov. 4:26, 27). The best way to attain anything in life is to make sure we're walking along the good road -- the way that Jesus mapped out for us. While we may meet obstacles along the straight and narrow way (Matt. 7:14), we know that establishing healthy and God-given motives gives us the poise, composure, and stability needed to overcome anything that would get in the way of our success.
  • When you can't see the landing, trust.
    Sometimes we may find ourselves in situations where we're not really sure what's best for us to do. Or, we may not be sure how to balance work and play; how to decide between the desire to fix a delicious dessert and the desire to lose weight; or how to see through the fog that seems to be clouding up our mental vision. That's when we need to trust totally and completely in God. The psalmist reminds us: "Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness … for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee" (143:8). Lifting up our soul, our eyes, our lives to God (which is what the first point declares) really enables us to have a light sense about life, which ensures balance. The psalmist also says, "Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass" (37:5). When you're throwing a trick on the beam, you have to commit to it. If you don't commit fully, you're likely to fall. How important it is then for us to commit our lives to God!

When we allow God to balance our lives, we are blessed with the following:

  • "Mental and emotional steadiness"
    Our spiritual growth is central to our "mental and emotional steadiness." When we are in tune with God, we realize that we don't have to be stressed out or feel like we're on an emotional roller coaster. If we step back, look up, and put things into perspective, we find that we're able to handle whatever comes up with a level-head, with clear reasoning, and with a firm confidence that God is showing us the way. Our mental stability connects directly with our physical well-being. Our bodies follow our thoughts; it's not the other way around. If we want our bodies to be healthy, we really have to make sure that our thoughts are aligned with God.
  • "Physical equilibrium"
    Once we have our spiritual life in order and a steady mental state, then we are well on our way to achieving physical balance. But we have to do the work; we need to take care of our bodies. Paul writes, "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?" (I Cor. 6:19). If we treat our bodies as temples of God, then we can't help but have physical well-being and balance. It may take a lot of discipline to stop eating that favorite cake or put down that spoon from the pint of ice cream. But if we're just eating because it tastes good or because we've had a bad day, or if we're depriving ourselves of necessary nourishment because we think we're too fat, then we're not being balanced. We're giving a lot of power to food (rather than to God) to satisfy us -- an impossible task. We have to love ourselves enough to eat what we need, what is good for us, and no more nor less than we need. Jesus tells us, "Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on" (Matt. 6:25). He doesn't tell us to think obsessively about our bodies. Physical equilibrium includes exercise. It's healthy to take our bodies out for a stroll and express the activity of God. God is not a lazy slouch, so we don't just want to sit around and do nothing. We also don't want to focus so much on the body that we ignore our spiritual growth, which affects all of our relationships -- with family, job, friendships, church, community.
  • "Harmony or proportion"
    Balance brings us into harmony, into the kingdom of heaven. When our lives are harmonious, everything works together beautifully; everything is in its proper proportion -- our spiritual growth, family relations, academic or career achievements, artistic expression, athletic abilities, strong sense of morality. Then we experience what the Bible tells us we will have: "thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have: that thy days may be lengthened in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee" (Deut 25:15). What a blessing!

Exercising control and discipline in order to achieve balance doesn't deprive us of anything good. In fact, it provides an atmosphere in which we can gain the most good. Jesus tells us: " Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again" (Luke 6:38).

So whenever we are tempted to think that achieving balance in our lives is never going to happen or really isn't that significant, we can remember the lessons from the balance beam: look up and out, away from self; be centered; focus on our goals and the steps required to meet them; and place our trust in God.