Finding balance in one’s life is often an elusive goal. At times it feels like a tightrope walk or another thing added to a never-ending, guilt-inducing “to do” list. But it doesn’t have to. I’ve been framing this quest for balance in the terms of wholeness and health. In my efforts to cultivate wholeness, I have been rereading Ruth Haley Barton’s book Sacred Rhythms. I have pored over the pages of profound wisdom for orienting my life toward God. No one should be surprised at the countless simple but profound nuggets within the book, but there is one nugget in particular that has hooked me and won’t let me go.
In her chapter on discernment, Barton asks the question, “What needs to die in me in order for God’s will to come forth in my life?” This is a good question. A question that requires us to prune the tree we have mistakenly thought we made grow. But she goes on to write, “It is a mistake to ask people to be crucified with Christ before they have actually fully claimed their life.”
There is something in that sentence that resonates with me on deep level. As I recall the ways marginalized people have been spiritually manipulated by phrases like “deny yourself,” this crucial first step to claim one’s life is empowering.
But I’ve been asking myself, “What does it means to claim one’s life?” What is this prerequisite for following Jesus? This isn’t meant solely for those with checkered pasts or Damascus Road conversion stories. I wondered if this “claiming” is referring to an examined heart—to one who has acknowledged his deepest desires, claimed her giftedness, confessed our limitation, grieved our sins. One who can look oneself in the mirror and say, “Yes, this is me, warts and all, no more, no less.” Claiming one’s life seems to be an act of confession. A confession of wills. A confession of allegiances. A confession of power. And there you seem to have it. That seems to be the turning point. To bring to consciousness and to claim the power one has in one’s life and world is the crucial step to surrendering or devoting that power to the ways of God in the world, to God’s kingdom rule.
Because when we deny ourselves in order to be crucified with Christ, we aren’t simply agreeing to some intellectual doctrines. We are changing the way our lives are oriented. Our criteria for “success” and “balance” have changed. A successful life is then defined as one who will lose his or her life. A balanced life becomes one fully devoted to his or her calling.