A few weeks ago during my meeting with Jess, she gave me a reflective exercise hshio do over the next two weeks. The exercise involved identifying and defining five qualities I valued from a list, then spending the next 10 days reflecting on how I embodied those values each day. The important part wasn’t to demonstrate each of those 5 values every day–it was to evaluate how I express them on a regular basis, and see if I could find patterns in that expression.

One of the values that I picked was balance. When I defined it, I wrote this: “Maintaining boundaries, and managing your needs versus the demands of your surroundings.” This principle has come into conflict a lot over the past week, so I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what it means to find balance in one’s life.

As I think about that question, I am reminded of the words of Devin, one of my fellow Marsh Associates. Last semester, he wrote a reflection entitled “I Opened My Ears.” I’d like to take a moment to echo an excerpt of his reflection here:

“I’ve realized when I’m constantly putting myself out in the world as a social creature, I’ve left little time for self-reflection. Putting my headphones on is my way of taking some time to be in my head. Today I didn’t. I forced myself to listen to each environment I was in, hear the conversations, and be present. I’m torn if this time of being present is beneficial for me and I should go without headphones more often or is ignoring the world needed sometimes.

I honestly turn to Jesus (no I am not comparing myself to Jesus) and think what would he do. I doubt he would ignore the world, history tells us something drastically different in fact. But what if Jesus was in introvert? I think he would still care, I think he would still sacrifice himself for us. I think it goes deeper than being social.

Working in ministry, even at entry-level, you put others first a majority of the time. You try to practice self-care, but you care so much it becomes secondary. How do you balance that? How can you justify being isolated from the world even for two minutes with your headphones on, when you don’t know who you just ignored. I think the biggest obstacle in leadership is how to maintain your own sanity. Jesus is an example that seems so impossible to us. To put others first constantly. Is that how we should live?” (“I Opened My Ears,” 11/3/2016).

These words speak powerfully to the role of being compassionate and caring to others in ministry, and it raises the challenge that comes with it. How do we justify being on our own when the world often asks so much of us? How do we balance self-care with compassion for others? As someone who values offering hospitality and care to people on a regular basis, this is a question I’ve faced a lot in the past.

During three conversations I had this past week, though, it felt especially pressing and relevant.  During two of them, I spent most of the time listening and offering possibilities of how to move forward. In the other one, I mostly ended up expressing things to someone I deeply care about. Although I’m glad that every one of those conversations happened, they’ve left a weight on my consciousness that’s difficult to process. Right now, as much as I care about all three individuals, I need some time to be alone and recharge.

When I read Devin’s reflection and heard his earnest question last semester, I was reminded of the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness on his own. Even though he spent so much of his life tending to others, he also took time on his own as well. I think sometimes taking that time can be healthy, even if there are demands from people other people.

Right now, I feel like I’m about to withdraw into myself and spend some time recovering. With the sudden snowfall and day off from school today, I think I have some time to do that. That process of wavering back and forth–from being with people and supporting others to being on my own and supporting myself–that is how I find balance in life at the moment. The swinging of a pendulum back and forth, between focusing on my own internal world and the external world around me, is how I find peace. And somehow, even though that pendulum is currently swinging from one end to another, I am able to be still.

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