One activity our family enjoys most is heading to the park together on a sunny afternoon.
When weather allows, we will hop on our bikes or simply walk over to one of the several playgrounds in our neighborhood and have our pick of many fun options.
Sure, there is the tire swing and the chain bridge that tests our steadiness is always a hit, too. The construction-themed digger tools in the sand pit grab our kids’ attention also, and we make sure never to miss a few turns down the slide.
But the one thing our children always want to do—and what my wife and I can never seem to avoid—is the teeter-totter.
Without fail, one of our three kids will ask us to join them on the seesaw, which invariably leads to the five of us battling it out, laughing joyfully as we propel up and down.
Yet, as we rise high off the ground and then descend just as quickly, I am reminded of how life can easily be compared to the ups and downs of a teeter-totter.
Not only that, but I can also take notice of the constant challenge I face when it comes to balancing work and play in my life.
Yes, much like a teeter-totter, the fast pace of life can often result in the living of extremes, leaving me longing for a more balanced diet of work and play.
I suppose I’ve always been like this, diving into a task and addressing it wholeheartedly while then shutting off my brain and relaxing with the same level of intensity.
This dance between living like Martha and her sister Mary, however, can be frustrating and problematic.
Unless properly managed, the rigors of my full-time teaching (and all of the non-instruction components that come with it) and the seemingly endless logistics of my most important role as a husband and dad can frequently cause me to put my personal desires or plans to the side (or eliminate them entirely).
As I am sure many others can relate, I would much rather have a more even lifestyle instead of the work hard-play hard dichotomy displayed between my labor and amusement. Sadly, the daily go-go-go routine can seem unforgiving and leave me feeling torn between what I have to do and what I want to do.
With this in mind, here are some tips for how to attain a better balance of work and play in our lives.
Do not bite off more than you can chew.
For whatever reason, many of us struggle with turning down opportunities when it comes to either our personal or professional lives, even at the expense of one or both of them.
Perhaps we will feel guilty that someone’s feelings may be hurt if we decline a party invitation. Maybe we are so ambitious and determined to gain a promotion that we sacrifice time with those close to us in order to impress our boss by completing an additional project offered our way.
Our faith teaches us the virtues of prudence and temperance. We are constantly challenged—but equally called—to make choices carefully and wisely, always seeking moderation in our decisions. As we strive to do both of these more regularly, we can notice our free time increase and our stress levels decrease.
Make time for fun.
It might seem contrived, but including personal interests in the structure of daily living is essential in order to enjoy the beauty and blessings of life God reveals to us.
Whether it be a coffee chat with some friends, a date night with our spouse or significant other, a phone call to a family member or a trip to the gym for a workout, such valuable activities can easily be wiped away if not slotted into the schedule. While spontaneity has its place, it can also present inconsistency, so making regular intentional plans for personal joy can ensure greater work-play balance.
Make time for rest during work.
Even when at work, hitting the pause button once in a while is crucial to avoid succumbing to pressures or burning out. Giving yourself tiny rewards like a snack as a study break or a cup of tea and a few minutes of conversation with a loved one can, if nothing else, help recharge the batteries.
While not always encouraged by today’s popular culture, stepping aside occasionally from the focus our labor demands can help us stay alert and be more fully able to tackle all of our responsibilities. Such a practice can also assist in better discerning God’s direction for us.
Be healthy, be happy.
How can we know or live God’s will if we are too busy to reflect on it? So long as we are preoccupied with work, we will deprive ourselves of moments God uses to speak to us.
Taking personal time can rejuvenate our health in several ways and help us appreciate so many wonderful aspects of life around us.
As some employers recommend mental health days as part of sick leave, we can recognize the merit of rest, while using it to help us keep God as our foundation and strength as we aim to excel at our various commitments.
Make time to shut down.
When not working, deliberately removing ourselves from distractions like our cell phone—even if only for a few minutes—can help us exercise better discipline. While flipping through job-related emails or planning a grocery list is necessary and important, establishing clear lines between work and play can help us better enjoy the lighter moments of life, such as watching our child’s progress in a basketball game or theatrical performance.
Such a strategy of unplugging can also offer added opportunity in silence and prayer to listen to our Lord communicating to us. Speaking of God, when seeking models to help inspire us in this practice, we need only to look to God himself, showing us the value of rest during the world’s creation.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church encourages work as a duty and teaches how it “honors the Creator’s gifts and the talents received from him” (CCC 2427).
Through work, the Church instructs, we reveal ourselves as disciples of Christ “by carrying the cross, daily, in the work (we are) called to accomplish. Work can be a means of sanctification and a way of animating earthly realities with the Spirit of Christ” (CCC 2427).
Yet, the Church reminds us of the need to separate ourselves from our work in order not to be separated from God, teaching, “work is for man, not man for work” (CCC 2428). In other words, we should work to live, not live to work.
So as we ready ourselves for another day at the office or a wave of errands in preparation for the Christmas holidays, may we also be mindful of the importance of a family movie night with popcorn on the couch or heading out for chicken wings with friends.
May such moments of relaxation and other times for prayer and reflection give us the renewal we need to face the challenges each day presents.
And when we are feeling stressed and worried about our work-play imbalance, may we turn our attention to the Lord, assured that if we do our best, God will do the rest.
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Matt Charbonneau is a high school religious education teacher who inspires his students to explore a deeper relationship with God. Applying uplifting lessons, engaging activities and insightful experiences, he strives to demonstrate the powerful presence and unconditional love of God in everyday life. For more of Matt’s writing, visit God’s Giveaways at www.mattcharbonneau.com.
Featured image by lisaclarke on Flickr