It’s school holidays, the sun is shining and delighted shrieks from next door tell me that my young neighbours are bouncing on their trampoline. I spend a minute or two pointlessly envying their physical elasticity before my mind drifts to the wonders of balance, its gradual acquisition and the way we lose bits of it as we age. From there it was just a slide to that modern day challenge – how to achieve a satisfactory life balance.
Text books picture the concept as a circle divided into eight equal segments. So, according to the theory, achieving a healthy life balance means keeping up with our constantly changing physical self, making time for family and friends, exercising a hands-on concern for the environment, achieving a fresh and creative approach in intimate relationships, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, keeping our finances in check and spending the bulk of the week at something that is called a career – and , oh yes, don’t forget your spiritual life.
I wonder if the Church dignitaries who will meet in October for what is called The Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, fully appreciate these everyday challenges facing modern families. Of the 250 from around the world who have been invited to participate, only 14 are couples. Another 38 are experts in family studies and the remainder are celibate clerics. Their Church focus, their responsibilities, the set-apartness of their lifestyle and even the way they dress, distance these men from the day to day realities of family life. There’s a certain imbalance here.
If you are single then a healthy work life balance is probably achievable. But once you have a family all those neatly segmented slices of life slip and slide all over the place. Parental personal needs like enough sleep or keeping romance alive in a marriage, are overtaken by two year olds who throw up three times in a night, resulting in a call to work and rescheduling an already rescheduled meeting because your child is sick and you can’t send him to child care. The life balance necessary for the healthy development of a small child or an adolescent, plays havoc with that of an adult.
Parents, Catholic or not, work very hard to achieve a balance in their family life. There is so much to squeeze in and usually something has to go. That something seems to be religion. Their spirituality may take other forms but the practices of religion are seen as getting in the way of shopping, sport and recreation. Spirituality centered around a single purpose building holds no practical appeal.
Even before it begins this Synod has indicated that its focus will be skewered to Church rulings on a raft of issues around conception and marriage. It’s a pity that so much Church teaching about families gets ‘churchified’. Family is where God is first encountered and imaged – physically. Experiences of love, forgiveness, community and symbol occur firstly in a family. The family is a Christian’s true home, not a church building.
Most parents I have known in my years as a Pastoral Associate have faith, a God sense that they express through Gospel values and occasional prayer. Maybe what families need from this upcoming Synod is help to name, claim and proclaim the sacred in what is the ordinary of their lives.