The Myth of Balance


Karoline Lewis writes that the notion that one can keep all the important aspects of life in perfect balance is an unattainable myth. It can be debilitating when too much energy is spent chasing this illusive goal rather than coping with the real issues and circumstances that vie for one’s time and attention.

Balance is a myth. It is simply not possible to keep even the important things in your life in perfect balance every day, all the time. At the same time, this is a rather ubiquitous mantra in ministry and in life. Maintaining balance has become another mark of achievement, “Look how well she balances work and home!” It can also become that perceived attainable achievement that is to your detriment and your downfall if you think it is realistic or within your reach.

The important aspects of your life cannot always receive equal amounts of attention.

Some actual reflection on what is assumed in the concept of balance makes its attainability all the more absurd. To imagine that all for which you are responsible — your multiple roles, and your own self — can be at equal weight all the time is simply not reasonable. Circumstances will demand that various aspects of who you are and what you do in your life receive more attention at times.

The myth of balance also can be debilitating when we think that it is entirely in our control. Circumstances arise that tip the scale regardless of how much effort you put into keeping the weight even. If the weight is off-kilter, the question becomes how you respond to that instability. When an unreasonable amount of effort is directed toward preserving equilibrium, there is less energy to direct toward strategies for dealing with what happens when the symmetry is upset.

Knowing What is Important

Of course, the attractiveness of balance is rooted in the idea of making sure that what is important in your life receives equal attention. This goal should not be an ideal but an essential to how you live your life. At the same time, the important aspects of your life cannot always receive equal amounts of attention. Yet knowing what is important in your life can be a critical point of entry when it comes to a discussion about balance; it is certainly a better entry point than any abstract aspirations of what balance should be.

Being able to identify those aspects of your life that are not only important to you, but also the ones that make up who you are, is the first step toward a full life, although not necessarily a balanced life – a life that is authentic to who you are and not out of reach of who you know yourself to be. Generalities about the benefits of securing balance will not mean much, and, as noted above, might even have negative effects unless these general claims are lodged in concrete life commitments. As a result, the attention you give to determining those essential aspects of your life that make up your identity is attention better directed than that which aims towards theoretical views of a balanced life.

Balance and Power

Questions of balance impact your power and influence, particularly for women in ministry. Power is perceived individually and relationally when it appears that you “have it all together.” Genuine power, however, when it comes to a balanced life, means that you are able to be truthful about these shifting realities when it comes to allegiances. Effective power means that you are truthful about when your life is “out of balance” and that you take action toward realignment before it all comes crashing down around you.

In practical terms, this approach to “maintaining balance” requires constant renegotiation, sometimes daily. That is, you assess regularly and frequently where, how, and why your commitments have come into a state of imbalance. If one commitment in your life is receiving or has received the most attention for awhile, and likely for good reasons, how can you bring some of the others into focus, and which ones need more focus than others? For some, this strategy of realignment and recalibration may seem exhausting. Yet, more exhausting is the energy it takes to maintain a myth.

This article is adapted from Karoline Lewis’s book She: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Women in Ministry (Abingdon Press, 2016) and used by permission. It is available through Cokesbury or Amazon.

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About Author

Photo of Karoline Lewis

Karoline M. Lewis is the Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. Lewis is the Program Director of the Festival of Homiletics and Chair of the Homiletics and Biblical Studies Section of the Society of Biblical Literature and the author several books including A Lay Preacher’s Guide: How to Craft a Faithful Sermon and John: Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries. Her most recent book is Preaching the Word (Westminster John Knox Press, 2023), available on Cokesbury and Amazon. Visit for resources on preaching, leadership, and being a woman in ministry.

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