The Balanced Scholar

by Anna Blanch on July 23, 2010

One of the realities of life as a scholar is that most of us can become absorbed in our work to the detriment of the rest of our lives – including relationships and mental and physical health. Over the last few years the self-help shelves have been filled with books like Eat, Pray, Love, which evangelize a life of moderation.

The moderation of indulgence is what is really in focus here. But is this the way I should think about balance? can I really have my cake and eat it too?

#3 in 10 things We Wish Someone Had Told Us When We Started Graduate School was:

Balance is the most important thing: work and work out, cook and go out, study alone and with friends. Don’t live like a hermit. Be curious: in life and in your research. Every once in a while, put away the textbooks and the articles and read something fun that has nothing to do with school. If you’re married, do not let your studies become more important than your marriage. You do NOT want your life to involve a competition between your spouse and your degree program; that risks bringing at least one to a premature end. Either integrate them, or divide your attention such that each gets a substantial amount of quality time.

Basically, Figure out how your professional and personal lives go together. We’re still flailing on this one, or we’d give you more advice.

 Not that I necessarily have anymore advice, but I have been thinking about this a whole lot more!

Is my motivation really another level of success at the “game of life,” where i still find a way to have it all, even if it means I have to accept a lesser amount of each?  I would declare, No!
I think it is the case that, for a Christian to be a balanced scholar – to be a balanced person – is something different to simply being more efficient at “getting things done.”

Firstly, why is balance the good being promoted?
In our contemporary western culture, the categories of our lives can be broadly stated as work – play – rest. The balance comes, apparently, when someone can find a way to work less even as they rest and play more. This rest and play is contingent upon the financial viability of the chosen lifestyle and such the work is a means to life predominantly directed toward the end of rest and play. But isn’t this obviously not balance, but rather a re-ordering of the equilibrium?

Let’s consider whether Jesus was a man of “balance.” Jesus worked hard. He was single-minded. His ministry lasted only 3 years. But he rested. He spent time with his friends. He ate. He walked. I don’t want to minimise or undermine the whole New Testament and try to suggest that I can do justice to a theology of work without a deeper treatment. If I was to extend this, I would need to develop a theology of work that deals with the particular stressors to which those in the academic profession are somewhat governed. What I will say is that the bible doesn’t have any notion of “retirement” as we conceive of it, but there are concepts of rest(oration) and rejuvenation (another way of thinking about play) which can inform the way we think about these generally accepted categories of work, rest, and play.

Balance – in the sense that I propose – hints at the notion of focusing not only on yourself and your needs. I guess if you fill your life up with things that are noticed by many and are to be judged good by a panel of your peers then it is possible to be successful in their eyes and for you to work as much as you like being able to justify the excesses of your workaholism on their assessment that your priorities are in the right order.

But what if in the sense that I speak of balance, as the right ordering of our loves, that we have a different reason for the work-play-rest paradigm? Or is there another way of thinking about balance as a scholar?

In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you. Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again; Not purloining, but showing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things. For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. – Titus 2:7-14 (KJV)

Balance is in some senses not a balance at all, but a placing of our priorities in the right order that we live our lives in the full knowledge of our salvation and in light of God as Truth.

Being balanced, that is – having rightly ordered your loves – is much more than an exercise in time management. It is also much more than ticking boxes in all the categories. Just because someone suggests that i should have a certain about of “leisure” does not mean that this should dictate to us how we spend our time. Now, to be fair, i don’t think that Kearns or Gardiner are dictating how we should spend our time, but what I suggest is that the right ordering of loves for the Christian scholar must place God and your relationship with him in the poll position, closely followed by a relationship with a husband or wife before we get anywhere near discussing the appropriate proportion of time slaving away at your desk as to facebook checking as to television watching.

To have a rightly ordered life is to know that rest and the enjoyment of blessings such as the beauty of creation and the material provisions (including, i take it, food) were also (in the first instance) set apart by God.

Tomorrow we will consider some practical strategies to help you with reflecting upon the ordering of your loves and to think about how best to steward (make use of and look after) limited time and resources. I do want to think practically, I just want to make sure we are not simply adopting yet another “efficiency” system without thinking carefully why.

 Image: Anna Blanch 2010
Anna M Blanch is founder of Goannatree, and a PhD candidate in the Institute of Theology, Imagination, and the Arts, University of St Andrews. She posts weekly over at Transpositions, a blog on Theology, Imagination, and the Arts.

  • Amy

    What a wonderfully written post on balance. Balance really is so much more than checking things off the list. I think that the more balanced your life is the more at peace you feel, the happier you are and you are able to enjoy everything you are doing – more. When you are not in balance, things feel hectic and rushed and like "have to's" instead of "get to's".

    Love your points you wish you had known before grad school. 🙂

  • Pingback: the month is half way done, but where is the thesis? — Goannatree()

Previous post:

Next post: