By David McGovern
So, how are those New Year resolutions going?
Nearly one month down and are you beating yourself up with self-recrimination or are you giving yourself a pat on the back with a job well done?
At the time of writing, many of our peers in the education sector are gearing up for the return of students, to primary and secondary schools across the archdiocese.
Those in other professions have been back into the working week for several days now, if not weeks.
One thing that no doubt unites us all is that we look back on the halcyon days of summer – when deadlines were few and the sun’s rays warmed our hearts and our spirits – with fondness and, possibly regret.
How many of us want to recapture the spirit of that time off during the 9-5 grind?
On the flipside, how many of us look back on the indulgences of our holiday and festive season and resolve to do better, now that we are back into a normal routine?
It’s not easy finding balance in life, is it?
The demands of our particular work environment take a toll and can curb our enthusiasm, our self-discipline and our resolve.
In their book, Benedict’s Way: An Ancient Monk’s Insights for a Balanced Life, authors Lonni Collins Pratt and Fr Daniel Homan write that one of the obstacles to balance is our inability to live authentically.
When we are inauthentic, we live according to someone else’s expectations – our boss, our colleagues, our personal trainer, our spiritual mentor.
True authenticity, the collaborators suggest, comes from “keeping to the basics”. In their words, the basics entail “dropping the masks” and simplifying our words, actions and relationships.
The Bible describes this simplicity as letting your yes be your yes, and your no be your no.
At the gym I visit, there is an instructor who not only takes a particular class but who works as a primary school teacher. She also is a prolific user of social media, particularly Facebook, and offers a daily dose of inspiration, complete with images and text. Her particular Facebook page is simply called “Stay Beautiful”.
What strikes me about Simone (not her real name) is that she seems to have acquired an ability to live authentically. Her life – complete with shots of her in various outfits when she is socialising or relaxing (commonly known as “selfies”) – is there for all to see.
She doesn’t hide from the fact that her life isn’t perfect but she is up-front about the lessons she learns from her failed dates, her disappointments and struggles, her successes and her achievements.
An authentic life is one that allows us to be real with others. The balance comes because we aren’t trying to go, as Billy Joel puts it in one of his songs, “to extremes” – we aren’t trying to live up to someone else’s expectations and we aren’t putting pressure on ourselves to do or say things that take us away from what we are ultimately all about.
The authors of the book on Benedict’s approach to life cite a part of the Benedictine rule that instructs monks to “offer two kinds of cooked food for the main meal”.
“This down-to-earth section of the Rule speaks sanely, directly and clearly,” they write. “Attention to the details, appreciation of the small things, sensitivity to personal preferences – these are all favoured by Benedict.”
As another month begins, or as you return to whatever “fray” lies ahead – getting fit, spending more time with your children, adapting to retirement, pursuing a hobby or paying off a debt – do so knowing you are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139).
Being true to that will allow you to find the balance – and fullness of life – God wants for all of His children.
David McGovern is the director of Catholic Mission in Brisbane archdiocese. Follow him on Twitter @livedogster