During my freshman year of college, Multi Grain Cheerios was my go-to snack. So, when I went to the grocery store one day and found boxes of this cereal drastically marked down, it was a bonus. I loved getting a deal on something I was going to buy anyway. Yet, to my dismay, as I started to put the boxes in my cart, the whole display started to tumble. I remember watching the cereal boxes fall, knowing there was no way to stop them.

Although this happened many years ago, I think back to that grocery store trip often. It’s a mental picture that illustrates how I often feel as I try to hold the various roles and responsibilities of my life in a precarious balance. Between kids’ activities, obligations at work and school, finding time to connect with my husband, planning and preparing meals, and everything else that fills my schedule, there are plenty of days when I feel just one step away from the whole thing tumbling down.

Since becoming a mom, I’ve read countless articles and books about finding work-life balance. But parents aren’t the only people who wrestle with balance. Whether we are old or young, have children or don’t, we all have multiple demands and responsibilities to juggle as we seek to live faithfully as the people God has created and called us to be.

Though many of us have been told that a perfectly balanced life is achievable, what I’ve realized is that “balance” is an elusive, unachievable goal. For me, the question has shifted from “When or how will I find the right balance?” to “What do I need in order to stay centered in my faith?”

As I started to put the cereal boxes in my cart, the whole display started to tumble. I remember watching the boxes fall, knowing there was no way to stop them.

This question has become more and more crucial to me as I’ve navigated the COVID-19 pandemic. A year of dealing with this virus has unbalanced almost all of us. Those with kids at home experience stress from all the time together; those who live alone are challenged by prolonged periods of isolation. Elderly people in nursing homes go long periods without visitors; caregivers have to renegotiate how and when they will find respite. Many have lost loved ones, some have lost their jobs and sense of security, others have had hours cut, and still others have worked overtime to care and provide resources for those in need.

As our family has juggled the demands of work, distance learning and trying to stay healthy, there have been many days when I had to give myself permission to do the things that help me feel centered: take a walk, read the Bible, journal, breathe. Doing these things doesn’t mean the day will unfold without challenges, but when I do take time to be with God, dwell in God’s word and simply breathe, I not only feel better about myself but also am more present and at peace in all my roles.

Staying centered doesn’t mean that life will be easy, but it does mean that, as we navigate the many pressures and demands that come our way, we’ll be better equipped to handle them with grace and to recognize God’s presence in our midst.

A year of dealing with this virus has unbalanced almost all of us.

As with most healthy habits, staying centered each day in the promises of Christ takes intentionality. Just as our physical bodies depend on water and food to thrive, our souls need time for spiritual restoration.

The season of Lent invites us to remember our baptismal identity and return to the Lord with our whole heart (Joel 2:12). Lent also provides a tangible time for us to try out spiritual practices that help us be still and remember our identity in Christ. I’m convinced now, more than ever, of the importance of staying centered in the midst of unbalance, of taking time to tend to my heart.

Some days, finding even a spare five minutes is impossible, but the reality is, if we don’t make time for soul-care, we’ll eventually have nothing left to give to others. Sometimes, giving ourselves a few moments of stillness will mean marking that time off on our calendars, going for a drive, listening to music or walking in the woods. Sometimes it will mean putting down our phones, turning off our screens and simply being present with those around us.

However it looks for you, I hope you’ll find this Lenten season that by spending time with the one who created you, you’ll discover who you are. This is the truth I keep coming back to: only by filling up with God’s love do I have love to share. And only by taking the time to stay centered and tend to our hearts in the frenzy of life are we able to become who God desires us to be, and fully experience the abundant life Jesus promises.

Kari van Wakeren
Kari van Wakeren is a wife, mom, writer and pastor of First Lutheran Church in Alexandria, Minn. Her new book is Unbalanced but Centered: Tending to Your Heart in the Frenzy of Life. Follow her on Facebook @unbalancedbutcentered or at www.karivanwakeren.com.

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