Steadying the Seesaw
I heard a story recently about a woman who was proud that she was able to push herself beyond the limits of endurance. And she did manage to get a lot done in the course of the day. But then again, her "day" didn't really end at sundown, or even close to it. In fact, this graphics designer found herself working until 2:30 one morning, and only stopped when she could no longer hold her eyes open. Wanting to have plenty of time the next morning--there was so much to do--she set her alarm for 4:30 a.m. This way, she could finish the work project, get her son off to school, run errands, and take care of household chores.
Just as she'd planned, she was up two hours later, waking herself with a cool shower and mug of steaming coffee. She read her son's homework and convinced him to redo certain sections, while she made him a special breakfast of pancakes. Soon she was waving goodbye to him at the bus stop. Knowing that two hours of sleep hadn't been nearly enough, she scheduled another two at mid-morning and fell into a deep sleep.
When she awoke, she figured that some kind of gooey mucus or something had dried over her eyes, because her vision was out of focus. When a warm water rinse failed to do the trick, she started panicking, thinking about all the reasons she needed her eyes, wondering for instance, "How will I see what I want to draw for work? How will I see how to get down the street to pick up my son?"
She started praying, begging God to help her get her sight back. "Forgive me for bothering you," she started. "God I know there are people who have it worse than me . . . people who can't see and can't hear. But please, if it's your will, let me see again."
That calmed her down a little bit, and sometime in the next hour, her vision began improving, but still wasn't back to where it had been. She phoned her physician, scheduled an emergency appointment, but almost pulled a no-show, because she began seeing with complete clarity again. Still, puzzled over why the loss of vision had occurred, and terrified that the episode was the first sign of some terrible illness, she kept the appointment and submitted to a complete physical.
After a full exam, her doctor said he couldn't offer any explanation for her loss of eyesight. The doctor told her she was healthy: great blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar. And the temporary loss of vision, he assured her, was not a symptom of degenerating nerves, brain tumors, etc. He added, "I have to admit that I'm stumped."
Grateful and eager to get on with her busy schedule, she thanked the young doctor and was about to say goodbye, when he turned and asked, "By the way, before this occurred were you involved in anything that might have caused you a lot of stress?"
She laughed, and at least that felt good, now that she knew death wasn't imminent. "Doctor, I'm always doing something stressful. Last night, for instance, I was on a deadline, so I only slept for two hours . . . But don't look so surprised. I took another two hours this morning as soon as I sent off the completed job." When he failed to look impressed, she said, "I try to catch up on my sleep on the weekends."
She'd have to do more than that, he told her, if she didn't want to suffer another vision loss. "I think your body was telling you something," he added, and he asked her to sit at a desk and write down everything she'd done in the last twenty-four hours.
After reading over her notes and totaling the number of hours, he shook his head. "If what you're telling me is correct, you worked fourteen and a half of the last twenty-four hours; slept for four; showered, dressed, and made-up in one; four hours were spent running errands and finishing chores, one hour helping your son with homework, and thirty minutes walking here."
He paused, and looked at the woman with a puzzled expression. "Your life is completely out of balance. You'll have to make changes immediately. Your body just told you that, and I don't think it's in the mood to negotiate."
She left, promising him and herself that she'd change her schedule right that moment, that there was nothing that was worth the loss of her eyesight. Walking home, she noticed the trees and people around her. It was late spring in New York City, the rains appeared to be over, and all around her trees were sporting their new warm-weather outfits, bursting with green new life. She even appreciated the people rushing around her, because only hours ago, she'd experienced what it would be like to not see them.
So she thanked God for her vision, and kept taking in the sights, speaking in her head to God, promising that this renewed vision was enough and that she'd never again take her life for granted. "This was gift enough," she finished the prayer. "Lord, I'm not going to ask for another thing, not anytime soon anyway."
With that said, she stepped into the bank to use the automated teller, wanting to buy flowers from the vendor on the corner. But lo and behold, she discovered that her bank balance was zero. What had happened? Had someone gotten into her account and ripped her off? She got out her cell phone and called the bank operator, but got no relief there. It was no mistake, the operator told her. A big check had just cleared, and she gave the woman the number. Yes, she remembered writing that one, but she'd thought she had enough left over to meet her needs. The bank operator advised: "Go home and check your deposits and withdrawals and call us back if you need to. We're here for you twenty-four hours a day."
The woman's steps dragged on the way home, and she certainly didn't feel any better after looking through her bank records, because she couldn't come up with any answer about why the balance she thought was supposed to be there wasn't. "All the other checks I've written will bounce," she thought, and her mind began to fill with ominous thoughts about how maybe this would never be cleared up and how it could be turned into a financial catastrophe . . . The mind works overtime in these situations.
Suddenly, she made a connection: out of balance. Hadn't the doctor used similar words, about being out of balance? This time when she prayed, she dropped her to knees. "God, I just finished saying I wasn't going to ask for anything else, so I'm sorry about panicking like this, but please help me work this out. I can't figure out the message, but I know it's got something to do with balance."
She didn't hear any divine words in her ear, and hadn't expected to, but taking a few deep breaths, she phoned the bank again, and this time she wound up with a bank employee who went out of her way to help. The two of them discovered the problem together. During one of her errands, when this woman was rushing through her busy day, she'd hit the wrong buttons in making a deposit. Rather than $2,400, she'd left off a zero, and credited her account with only $240. The situation was rectified; money was transferred from her savings account to cover today's incoming checks, and she was told that within the next twenty-four hours, the correct balance would show.
Rather than feeling relieved this time, the woman held a finger to her lips, striking a pose of deep concentration as she wondered about the day's theme and what God expected her to learn from it. Twenty-four hours
and out of balance
: The words had repeatedly popped up.
"God," she prayed again, "I'm going to figure it out, I promise." Her prayer was interrupted by a call from her daughter, who was attending an expensive private school out in California. The young woman's voice seemed hoarse. "Mom, I'm afraid I have some bad news. I've been in bed for the last few days with a terrible cold. And you know I'm like you, I never get sick. But . . . and don't say I told you so. I've been playing Frisbee. I know you told me I needed to spend any spare time earning good grades, and not waste it with something silly like Frisbee, but I did. And there's this girl on my Frisbee team who always forgets to bring her water bottle, so I've been letting her drink out of mine . . . Yesterday, she told me that she wasn't going to be able to take the finals at the end the quarter, because she has a bad case of mononucleosis: She's exhausted from severe cold symptoms. The upshot is that I think I have mono too, and that means my whole semester may be wasted."
She sounded as if she was waiting for her mother to fly into a rage, but the woman didn't. True, her heart was beating faster at the prospect of her daughter suffering through a long-term illness and falling behind in school. But what she said to her daughter didn't reflect that concern. She said, "I don't blame you for offering your teammate a drink of water after a workout. And if you haven't gone to the doctor yet, you have no way of knowing if you're really sick. If it is mono, we'll deal with it. Now, call me back as soon as you're finished at the infirmary."
While the woman waited for the phone to ring again, she considered calling a client to tell her that she wouldn't be able to make tomorrow's agreed-upon impossible deadline, but she didn't do it, not that moment anyway.
She got back down on her knees and she spoke to God. "I get the message, Lord. I'm not going to start out by apologizing for turning to you. I'm not going to allow myself to feel ashamed for being needy. Things happen in the course of a day and you aren't an eight-hour God, you're there always and at all times. And you're a lot better than a twenty-four-hour teller, because you have my best interests at heart. I'm going to keep coming back to talk to you, praising you for being with me and I'll trust that you'll help me bring my life into balance. The next time I total up my hours, there's going to be more praying. I'm literally going to stop and smell the flowers and do what I need for my body so it can continue to function smoothly. Thank you for blessing my daughter and making her a generous soul. Thank you for the skills of the doctors that are examining my daughter. Bless that woman at the bank who handled my panicky call."
When she'd finished praying, her daughter phoned to say that the doctor diagnosed her as suffering from a bad cold. The young woman would be back on her feet and playing Frisbee in no time. She paused, as if that part, about Frisbee, had slipped out. She knew her mother didn't approve of "time-wasters."
Her mother read her mind. "Honey, I was wrong to tell you not to play Frisbee. I'm so glad you're taking time to enjoy your life. I'm going to start doing the same. In fact, I heard about dance classes at a local gym, and you know . . . your dad and I used to love to dance. Maybe I'll even turn on some music tonight and see if the two of us can remember some of our old moves."
That's right, this woman had a husband, but you wouldn't have known it by her schedule, right? What about you, what are you leaving out of your life?
If you had to write down the ways in which you've spent your last twenty-four hours, how would it look? Try it. Pull out a paper and pen and jot it down. Does your day look balanced? Is there time allotted for resting the body and the mind? Some people need more sleep than others. I call myself an eight-hour woman, and I make it a point to let my friends know. I'm generally in bed by nine and up by five. I've had to learn to make time for all that's important in my life.
When I was a girl, my parents either gave or attended a party every weekend. Doesn't sound like people who sometimes held two or three jobs at a time, but they managed to do the work, raise us, party with friends, save their money and invest it, and attend church. At one point in my life, I lost sight of maintaining that kind of balance. Even my soul was weary.
Since then, the many strategies I employed for alleviating my spiritual, emotional, and physical lethargy have been shared with thousands of men and women, from all walks of life. I have traveled the country talking with those who are seeking hands-on practical advice for managing their lives and tools that will help them create a measurable difference. I've spent more than a decade helping others pursue their passions and dreams. Often, in assessing our lives, we realize we have not devoted enough time or thought to our own passions, plans, and pursuits.
As the Balance Doctor, I am always trying to find ways to help people realize their dreams and live the lives they truly want. They begin by learning to balance their lives by holding on to a mental image of the seesaw. I use this familiar childhood playground favorite, the seesaw, because everyone can relate to it.
Often, a picture of scales is used to connote balance. But I believe that down time, recreation, and play are important aspects of the "dream life." In the park, the seesaw is more than a piece of wood that goes up and down. It teaches children that if a balance isn't struck, they will not have a smooth and successful ride. Too much weight on either side causes one end to go up and the other down. This is true in life as well. Too much weight in life causes our stress indicators to go up, our health to go down; our blood pressure up, our spirits down. Our lives require balance.
I have learned to borrow a page from my parents' lives. Recently, in fact, Ron and I hired a sitter and danced the night away to our favorite seventies songs. And because life is so circular, decades earlier and a few blocks from where we were clapping our hands and moving to the melodies, Ron had been a teenage member of the Afro Gents dance group, helping to get more than a few parties started. He's still a smooth operator. More than that, he's my playmate; the partner who helps keep my seesaw balanced. We all need that kind of lover, or friend, or relative, or perhaps a spiritual advisor, someone to depend on who will be there for us during life's many ups and downs. Remember the seesaw ride when the ride was going smoothly until the other person suddenly leaped or fell off? You went slamming to the hard ground and that felt pretty miserable. That's why you need to seek reliable, prayerful support.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Live Like You're Blessed by Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook. Copyright © 2006 by Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook. Excerpted by permission of Image, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.