Ever watch a live professional plate spinning performance?
Plate spinning is the circus art of spinning plates, bowls, and other objects on poles. The goal is simple: Keep it spinning, don’t let it fall, and let's see how many more plates we can add! It’s multi-tasking on steroids or in this case, porcelain.
Because of this, some cultural contexts actually use plate spinning as a comedy routine.
I think I do too, but as a tragic comedy.
I’m busy. Everyone is in a sense, but I like to think I’m truly busy. I’m a pastor. I have young kids (4 and 1 at the time of writing). Oh and my wife is a medical resident, so we’re busy apart and together. My days start on average at 5am and they end when they end.
I was mentored early on to believe the keyword for combating busyness was “boundaries.” I had to say “no.” But as life seasons changed, I found non-negotiable responsibilities (see: dad duties) only increasing.
So “balance” became the next keyword. “Balance your priorities” and “Balance your life.” But that’s precisely why I so often felt like a plate spinner. Life became a mad dash run from one non-negotiable “must do” responsibility to the next so that the plates of work, children, and marriage didn’t shatter into irreparable pieces.
When that still didn’t work, I combined “balance” and “boundaries.” I started performing a personal Cirque de Soleil, spinning plates and being interrupted by people asking if I could spin another one. I would shrug and say “no” as politely as possible, while rapidly turning a full 180-degrees to sprint back to the first plate, with the roaring laughter of the audience in the background.
I then read somewhere the key was time management. Then energy management. Then self-awareness, and then I started to feel like I needed anger management, but none of them changed my circumstances: The plates had to be spun!
This all led to a frantic, hurried, exhausted life - a life often flirting with burnout, and I often felt out of sync with my own humanity.
But I’ve come to realize there’s still yet a better solution: Centeredness.
HEART OF THE MATTER
The Bible paints a diverging picture of how God’s people experience life as opposed to those who don’t know Him.
God’s people are a people anchored like a planted tree (Psalm 1) marked by security and peace, in contrast to “chaff that the wind drives away” those who “seek after all [basic] things” with anxiety and worry. (Matthew 6:31-32)
Scenarios and life circumstances may be uniform, but how they’re subjectively experienced contrast. God’s people are rooted. Grounded. Anchored.
So why didn’t I feel that way in the midst of my busyness?
In the Bible, the heart is the center and core of one’s being. It’s the command center of a person’s life where thinking (mind), feeling (emotion), and acting (will) collide. But the heart can fluctuate, change, and even be deceived, hence the reason the wisdom writer advised delicate care. (Proverbs 4:23)
This means we must proactively take the time and energy to align our hearts, which are prone to misalignment to God and His realities, realities that are objectively true, but not always so subjectively in our experience.
Some call this aligning process “resting,” others “Sabbath,” others “devotionals” but regardless, it’s imperative we “Seek the Kingdom first and His righteousness” as the mechanism which anchors our hearts to that which is true of God, His ways, and therefore true of ourselves in Him. This is the pursuit of centeredness.
And this is the primary plate that must be spun in order to actualize the anchoring that’s already taken place in our salvation. In so doing, the internal will have direct transference to the external. The way we see life’s plates, the way we spin those plates, and the manner in which we circle back to the first plate will be genuinely different.
SPIN YOUR HEART OUT
See, I looked primarily to external solutions (ie. management tools) when externals are never disconnected from life internal. That’s why I constantly felt flustered, frenetic, guilt-ridden and a disappointment to others. I couldn’t help but hold to a performance-based identity because I had stopped intentionally spinning the plate of my heart to see and savor God and the joy of my salvation. I was misaligned. My experiential salvation was based off of how I was spinning life’s plates rather than objective salvation in Jesus.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying productivity or results don’t matter, they do. I’m also for personal management. I have a bunch of management tools and geek out about that stuff. I’m just saying at the end of the day, you’re still you. Your worried and hurried heart go wherever you go, as does a grounded hearted, comfortable in one’s skin, believing God holds the day, the week, and the future in His hands.
This means how your heart is spinning has profound implications for how you’ll spin all corners of life and responsibility. Your personal centeredness is the starting point of productivity in the whirlwind of busyness. A busy heart can’t handle busyness, only a centered heart can. A heart centered and rooted in Jesus can properly balance, create boundaries, and so forth.
This is why my morning routine of opening my Bible and journaling has become non-negotiable for me. I am trading in my worries while taking on His concerns, aligning my humanity to that which God has saved me for.
Life is busy and it's meant to be. God’s people are empowered to overcome busyness by life within not overcome by life beyond.
So here are a few encouragements for your pursuit of centeredness:
1. Leave it in the calendar, not up to chance.
Author Steven Covey once wrote, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”
The best intentions don’t mean anything until we actually build it into our lives. Your pursuit for centeredness could be a brief 15 minutes time period, but pencil in a date. Right now. Seriously!
2. Devote for check up, not check list.
There’s no magic to spiritual disciplines. They matter insofar as we get God Himself.
If it’s a check list, you’ll gain the satisfaction of doing it but miss the satisfaction of God Himself. If you do it as a check up, you’re creating space for the Physician to diagnose your heart for you.
3. Rest for fun not just for fuel.
Centeredness can include going for a hike, sipping coffee with friends, or just reading at Starbucks.
Enjoying God includes enjoying His gifts unto Him as an expression of thanks to the Giver.
4. Honor your rhythms not just your deadline.
If you simply racehorse to “get everything done” you’ll also soon be “done” too.
I used to think the “morning or night person” talk was just a silly conversation starter until I realized I can get more done in 30 minutes at 4am than 2 hours at 10pm.
Discover your wiring. Embrace your wiring. Wire your life to embrace your responsibilities.
5. Sleep for spiritual discipline
Jesus woke up early to pray, but He also napped on boats too.
Sometimes, even closing your eyes for 5 minutes is recharging. And occasionally, you may need an extended nap and you’re not a lazy sloth for that.
6. Redeem your commute
Every drive gives you a chance for silence (solitude), speaking (social engagement) or savoring (enjoyment through music or podcasting). Discern what you need for today.
Honestly, I’m still tinkering around with how to keep my heart centered on Him.
What I do know is I’m busier today than I’ve ever been but I’m less stressed than I’ve been before.
Let’s spin busyness into control as we walked in centeredness.
Pastor Steve Bang Lee is the College Pastor and Teaching Ministry Lead at Living Hope Community Church in Brea, CA. He received his B.A. from Cal Poly Pomona and M.Div. from Talbot School of Theology. Steve also serves on the Board for CCM (Crossroads Campus Ministry).