by David Edman Gray
The Alban Institute, Herndon, Va. 130 pages
In college, a classmate and I were working in the art department’s sculpture studio and I was musing about the “too many” things I was doing. My classmate, kindly interrupting me, said, “Andrew, do you know how to say no?”
I didn’t. He proceeded to offer to make a sculpture for me. It would be a plaster cast of me, seated in a wagon, with an audio recording saying “Andrew says no” running on repeat, that I could pull behind me. The sculpture never came to be, but the reality of needing to find balance, and say no occasionally, is still true.
David Gray’s book, “Practicing Balance,” is an excellent journey into the life and work imbalance that so many of us participate in. Split into two sections, one focused on the history of imbalance and one on seeking healthy balance, “Practicing Balance” is an enjoyable read. Gray writes with the practiced eloquence of a preacher, the passion for research of a policy wonk, and the care for balance that a husband and father of four would truly know.
The book begins with a tour of how work and life imbalance is a problem in our society, personally, nationally and religiously. “One in three American employees are chronically overworked” and “40 percent of Americans suffer from serious stress.” Most people don’t use all of their vacation days, and workplace flexibility is becoming an issue for men and women as households are more frequently dual-income. “Less than 20 percent of families have dinner together consistently over the course of a week.” Technology enables us to bring work home and on vacation rather than leaving it at the office.
A balance between work and life is hard to come by. Gray also points out that much of our contemporary attitude toward work, both good and bad, comes from our religious heritage, especially from John Calvin and American Protestantism.
Yet amid the morass of work imbalance, Gray sees hope. In the second section of the book he provides recommendations of attitude, habit and policy changes that can promote healthy balance. He offers reminders to set boundaries, say no to some things, exercise, pray and be intentional about our choices and priorities. He emphasizes that balance involves seeking energy-giving activities and encourages structuring spiritual practices into our daily routines.
Gray offers excellent questions at the end of each chapter, and in appendices he offers additional resources. Speaking with the wisdom of his work at a think tank, he also suggests public policy that would help our society find harmony between work and life, such as policy related to the Fair Labor Standards Act and quality child care.
Gray has offered an outstanding resource for personal and congregational discussion and growth. Although there are times still I wish for that sculpture and wagon, David Gray’s book is well worth saying “yes” to, and taking the time to read.
ANDREW PLOCHER is the pastor of New Hope Presbyterian Church in Olney, Md.