For a long time I have been fascinated by those rare individuals who are able to balance the contemplative and the active life—otium et negotium. People like Sir Thomas More, literacy advocate and mystic Frank Laubach, and N. Gordon Cosby, founder of the Church of the Saviour in DC, are in this elite group. Most of us default either to a life of action or reflection, and more people gravitate naturally to the former than the latter. I’m not sure why, but it’s easier for most of us to do than to reflect, meditate, pray, or just be. We like to move, not sit still. Someone needs to remind us, “Don’t just do something, stand there!” The Lord did when he said, “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).
We hear a lot about how self-serving we have become in our modern society. The consumer culture has perpetuated a me-centeredness that leaves little room for generosity and service. Yet, ironically, with all of this self-indulgence we have done ourselves a disservice by not doing more for ourselves. The needs we are trying to satisfy superficially can only be met in the depths of our being. I remember the homey way a Baptist deacon in a country church put it, “You can’t make hunger go away by rubbing a hamburger on your belly.”
One of the many books I’m reading right now is Elizabeth O’Connor’s Journey Inward, Journey Outward. It seems to me that loving God with your whole being and loving your neighbor as yourself requires both a vibrant devotional practice and a life of service for others. But how can you pull it off when you have a demanding work schedule, busy home life, and a dissertation to finish?