Balancing on a bicycle
Life lessons from bicycling

How do you organize your life? How do you choose how to spend your time and resources? What are your guiding principles?

Years ago, I tried to organize my life based on “priorities“. That didn’t work very well. You see, in real life, there is never just one thing that absolutely, positively needs to be done, and the top thing on the list can’t always be done to completion before other things need to be done. Priorities are nice, but they aren’t enough.

There are many demands on my time. I want to spend time with God, reading or listening to the Bible, praying, worshiping, and seeking my Father’s good pleasure. Of course, part of the Lord’s will for my life is to love and care for my wife and children. There is also work, church, community, country, etc., all of which demand or request things of me. Then there is taking care of myself. In a sense, every time I attend to one, I am taking away from what I do for another. Some things are urgent. Some are very urgent, and must be attended to immediately to avoid or mitigate danger. Some things are very important, but not necessarily urgent, although important things ignored for too long tend to become urgent. Some things are just not important at all. Some things are just distractions or, worse yet, sins to be avoided.

I find “balance” to be a useful concept for organizing my life. Like balancing on a bicycle, it takes constant adjustments to keep from leaning too far to the right or to the left and to keep on course. As I learned first when learning to ride a bike, failure to balance can be painful, embarrassing, and frustrating. And that is just in the back yard. For more advanced bicycling, failure to balance can lead to serious injury or even death, especially with unexpected conditions that work against your balance. Gusts of wind, slick spots on the road, loose gravel, broken glass, thorns, traffic (especially erratic traffic), rain, curves, hills, etc., are all part of the conditions that make balancing a bicycle more interesting. Real life is even more challenging to keep balanced, with the extreme complexities of personal relationships, finances, temptations, business opportunities, investment opportunities, needs of others, charities, crime, disease, injuries, collisions, disasters, war, persecution, spiritual warfare, etc.

I see a balanced life as one in which:

  • I do only the things I should be doing.
  • I spend the right amount of time on each thing each day.
  • I am flexible in adapting to changing conditions.
  • I am always sensitive to God’s leading, and quick to follow Him.
  • I take care of myself spiritually, mentally, and physically.
  • I am a faithful husband and good father.
  • I help others as the Lord leads.
  • I don’t neglect any of my responsibilities.
  • I honor God with my finances.
  • I faithfully do the work God has called me to do.
  • God’s love is in all I do and say.

Note that the points above imply lots of balances between competing and seeming opposites. For example, taking care of myself and caring for others. To love my neighbor as myself (Mark 12:31 and other places in the Bible), I must both love myself and care for myself and care for others. The Bible says much about both. I like the airline oxygen mask analogy. In the airline safety briefings, they always tell you to put on your own oxygen mask first, then help others. At first, this sounds a little selfish, but really, it is not. You see, if a mother takes too long getting masks on 3 toddlers who are scared of the masks and keep taking them off, she could pass out due to lack of oxygen, and the toddlers can’t help her. However, if she has her own mask on, she has the time to put the oxygen mask on her children, even if they keep taking them off. If they pass out, she could still put the mask back on them, and they could quickly recover before any permanent harm comes to them. In the same way, if I put off my own self-care while tending to the needs of multitudes of needy people, I would not only be a terrible example to them, but could burn out or worse, and become totally ineffective. Unfortunately, I have seen that happen too often among missionaries. On the other hand, if all I do is care for my own needs and neglect the needs of others, I’m equally ineffective. The best balance is when I care for myself enough to be healthy spiritually, mentally, and physically, and also care for others as appropriate.

Another factor in balance is avoiding road hazards. On my bicycle, when I see a patch of broken glass or some other hazard, I quickly choose a route around the hazard and focus on the way I want to go. I don’t focus on the hazard. I focus on the clear path, because where I focus is where I tend to steer. It is the same in life. When I take the good advice in Philippians 4:8 and think about good things, I’m too busy doing that to think about being tempted by things that don’t please God. What if I fail to miss a road hazard and get a flat tire? That is why I have a repair kit with me. In life, if I mess up, I confess it to God and move on, thankful for 1 John 1:9.

Balance takes wisdom. To balance well in adverse situations takes reliance on God.