Forget Balance. Aim for Rest

No human being has ever continually progressed upward and to the right. Yet, if they tell the truth, most leaders expect to. Something inside us expects progress, so we work to that end — even when working to that end hurts us. It would be bad enough if it stopped there, but this hurt usually extends to others, both our followers and loved ones. 

Work/life balance continues to be a hot topic because the “Information Age” has made the cessation of work nearly impossible. So instead, we aim for “balance.” Balance implies that we can somehow manage both work and home stressors in perfect symmetry — but the reality is more a feeling of trying to balance atop a narrow balance beam while simultaneously juggling a child, a laptop, and quite possibly an enormous kettlebell-sized amount of work stress. 

I propose that not only is balance impossible, but it isn’t the solution we need. Instead, the solution is something so simple we miss it. 

The solution is rest. 

As I’ve shared, my family and I went out West this summer. We usually gravitate to summer beach vacations, but we chose something entirely different by going to Yellowstone and Montana this year. Instead of playing golf and sitting on the beach, we hiked and saw wildlife at Yellowstone and The Grand Tetons. It was definitely a more active vacation. Yet, I came home refreshed. This made me ask the question: why?   

Four Types of Fatigue

As I reflected, I realized that not all fatigue is the same. In fact, I think there are four main types of fatigue: 

  • Physical
  • Spiritual 
  • Mental
  • Emotional

I then observed something about myself that you may or may not relate to: I usually characterize my fatigue as being physical because physical fatigue is easily felt. But I rarely consider spiritual, mental, and emotional fatigue as being a culprit. 

In hindsight, it is clear that I went on our vacation with a lot of spiritual, mental, and emotional fatigue. Here are some examples to help clarify the differences: 

Spiritual: My trust in God’s Sovereignty had waned. How do I know? I found myself becoming hopeless regarding the darkness of our modern World. 

Mental: I was becoming angry when the demands of work — legitimate demands — came to my desk. I was becoming someone not to follow! 

Emotional: Inside me, I felt a real sadness about some of the changes that have occurred during the past six months at work. 

Of course, I was also physically tired. My body felt it, but it also felt all the above! 

Every day that passed on our vacation, I found my energy returning, despite often hiking around 7 to 8 miles with three kids, sleeping without air conditioning, and eating National Park food (You can call me a snobby foodie if you like — let’s just say the food wasn’t the highlight of the trip!) This happened because I was immersed in nature, reminded of God’s creation, and freed from Wi-Fi, work email, and work in general. 

It was legitimate rest. 

Suddenly, I could see the sun again, and it was gorgeous. 

Putting Insight Into Action

So what do I do with this knowledge? Admittedly, I can’t go back to Yellowstone whenever I feel like it. I am writing this post about five weeks after returning and already feel the need for another adventure! Here are a few ideas I am considering to help me stay restful. I am sharing in hopes that they spur you on to lead yourself in the pursuit of rest. 

First, I am recommitting to observing the Sabbath. Jesus found time to go away, pray, and rest. I, too, can find time to rest one day out of seven. The Sabbath is a gift because it is the weekly reminder that I am not in control of time, destiny, or even my own progress. Sure, I need to work hard the other six days. But that is not my problem, and if you are reading a blog about leadership, I would imagine it is not yours either! Rather, resting is our problem. I can rest because progress is not up to me. The same can be said of you! 

Second, as I have shared, I am going to do less, better. I do not intend this to become a mantra but rather a reminder that I cannot do it all. I need to clarify what constitutes the best use of my very limited time and energy I have. Often, the problem I face (and I imagine many of you face) is that I try to do enough, good enough. There will always be more to do. So what’s the best use of your time and energy? 

Third, I am going to commit to getting outside this winter. As Chicago winter approaches, I am not going to become a hermit. As I learned during my vacation, a positive return of energy — physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental — comes with being outside in nature. It reminds us of our place in the world and that there is a Power far greater than us behind it. And even though things are not as they are supposed to be, we see glimpses – if we look for them – of how things will inevitably be restored.