The Book of Mormon teaches us that man is that he might have joy. Of course, joy isn’t the same thing as worldly pleasure, so it doesn’t mean we have permission to play all day. On the other hand, it does mean we are allowed to enjoy ourselves sometimes. We aren’t expected to work every moment of every day, neglecting sleep and relaxation. God intended for us to achieve an appropriate balance in our schedules. While much of our time—most of it, in fact—should be spent on our mortal and eternal commitments, we also have to build in time to enjoy ourselves, ponder, and rest. If we develop our lives well, we can even relax and be useful at the same time.
When you stand before God to account for how you used the life He gave you, will you be pleased with the results? Suppose He shows you a pie graph showing what percentage of your time was used in the various tasks that occupy your current life? Will it seem balanced to you?
Start by creating a pie graph showing what you’d like that final graph to look like. What do you want occupying the greatest amount of your time? Of course, the percentages may change as your life changes. At one stage, parenting will have the biggest share. At another, a career might occupy a larger segment of your time than it does now. If the largest segment shows surfing the net or watching movies, you might need to redesign your chart.
What do you want the biggest segment to show when you face God. The size of the chart spaces will show what you considered most important.
“In terms of priorities for each major decision (such as education, occupation, place of residence, marriage, or childbearing), we should ask ourselves, what will be the eternal impact of this decision? Some decisions that seem desirable for mortality have unacceptable risks for eternity. In all such choices we need to have inspired priorities and apply them in ways that will bring eternal blessings to us and to our family members (Dallin H. Oaks, “Focus and Priorities,” Liahona, Jul 2001, 99–102).
Elder Oaks makes a point that priorities in mortality and eternity might be very different. For instance, in mortality, it might seem to make sense to spend every waking moment on our careers, but when we reach eternity, all that work will be meaningless. Of course, we do still have to earn a living here, but if all our time is spent on temporary mortal things, we will get to Heaven completely unprepared for eternal life. It would be like showing up to apply for a job as a doctor without having gotten around to medical school.
Being able to juggle temporal and eternal needs takes careful planning. A balanced life never just happens. It begins by getting a picture of what we want our mortal lives to look like and then making a plan to achieve it. If we want to earn a good salary, we need to decide how to do it. Can we choose a career that is satisfying without taking over our lives? Perhaps money isn’t that important, so we only need a job that provides a decent standard of living, but we do need ample time for creativity. Can we blend the need for creativity with one that earns a living, so we’re accomplishing two things at once?
If we intend to stay at home while our children are growing up, but suspect we may need a career someday or want to supplement our income without leaving home, we need to plan to have the skills that will make that possible. Then we need to figure out how to keep up those skills while we’re at home. For instance, I wrote a column and maintained a website with articles on it while my children were young, so when they were grown, I had developed my skills to the point of being able to write a book.
How can we be productive while still having fun? There are many types of service that the world needs to have done and we can nearly always find one we consider rewarding and fun. I love to teach and I love history so I volunteer to teach a citizenship preparation class that includes American history. I have to do a lot of reading to prepare, but it is then used to teach my class, giving it double purpose. Earlier, I homeschooled my children, allowing me to use my teaching skills to benefit my own family.
Doubling up is the most effective way to strike a balance. Learn poetry while cleaning house. Read a classic to your baby as you rock her to sleep. Learn to cook by cooking for your family.
Make use of spare moments. Keep a book in the car to read while you wait for someone, or read one on your phone. I put the scriptures on my telephone so I can get in an extra chapter while I’m waiting somewhere. When you find yourself with ten minutes, do a fast chore so you won’t have to do it during your normal chore time.
Remember that if we want to get something done, we need to do it first. We practically always find time for the things we really want to do—have you ever rushed through a day so you’d be done when your favorite program came on television? We can’t do everything in one day, but we can do whatever we decide is a priority. Do the priorities first and then fit the other things in. Just make sure your priorities are realistic. At the moment, my list of things to do each day is far too long, so I’ve had to decide some of them just aren’t going to get done every day. First I have to do my spiritual things—prayer, scripture reading—the things that keep me focused on the eternal. Then I have to care for my family to a reasonable but not perfect level. Then I have to take care of my customers. Finally, I can fit in as many of the other things as I have time for—study, writing a novel, and building a new part of my business, plus the pure pleasure—reading.
Now it should be noted that I’ve taught myself to enjoy many of the things that have to be done, such as scripture reading and writing the novel and caring for my customers. So the work isn’t all mundane. I don’t even mind the dishes. I don’t like most housework though, so I simply get it over with early in the day so I’m not stuck thinking about it and try to make it as pleasant as possible by listening to music or planning my writing.
Spend a few hours pondering how you make use of your time. Are you letting life just happen, or are you getting as much as possible out of your allotted mortality? You signed up for this life—get the most for your commitment you possibly can.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.