Maintaining Harmony and Standing Your Ground

Please visit our YouTube channel to watch Rev. Ann Marie’s video recording of this reflection.

As our story this morning illustrated, sometimes the slightest little thing can cause all that we have done to maintain our balance to tip the scales and cause disharmony. The slightest little thing can rock the boat and throw us all overboard.

For those of us who like things to be “just right,” it can be so frustrating when the scales are tipped, so frustrating to realize how much time is spent trying to maintain balance.

In my family, I am the one who does most of the cleaning, nearly all the washing and drying of clothes, and the one who keeps track of our finances. I make sure it at least appears that the income is going to keep flowing in, so that the paid bills keep flowing out in an unending balanced stream. I make sure the dirty clothes and the dirty floors are balanced with clean ones. When everything is clean, I feel so good about it and the order that it brings (for about five minutes!).

As for the bills, I have been using the same financial software to keep things straight for years and years. The software isn’t perfect, and neither am I. There is always something to straighten out, or there is some new “update” that messes something up and I have to figure out how to work around it to return everything to a somewhat accurate balance, the hopefully equitable scale of the ins and outs. Sometimes I make a mistake in my calculations. Sometimes those are huge, and I try to cover it up! But I find it soothing to do what it takes to get it all back into balance again. That’s just the person I am; I like things in balance.

It is kind of like family life. When I see that there is some kind of disharmony, I am frustrated until I can get the emotions back into a state of balance, so that everyone is calm and at peace with each other for at least five minutes. At least those five minutes feel great.

Lately, one of 7-year-olds (one of the twins) is very attentive to what is fair and what is not. It seems that equitable distribution is her thing these days. 

We have a nanny, a childcare provider, who primarily takes care of our 3-year-old. He has had no other type of childcare for over two years. He has a very small circle of friends or exposure to any kids his age compared to the two 7-year-olds, who are, of course, back in school. He is at home or at the nanny’s home most of the time. He does have a three-year-old friend who lives behind us, so his world consists of one friend his age and the rest of us at home. A very small circle.

Lately, if the twin who is acutely focused on equity comes home from school and hears that the 3-year-old went to a park or has a new toy, you can bet she’s going to have an over-the-top jealous reaction. This has been going on for a couple of months.

We have calmly listened to her feelings of injustice, we have reminded her of her privileges, we have tried to coax the younger child to keep his daily activities to himself.

But nothing helps; the slightest perceived tip towards him and away from her sets off her injustice alarms, and she isn’t going to keep it to herself! There isn’t much we can do to end the display of anger and jealousy.

Perhaps that energy will be useful in her future. Maybe a passionate impulse to be treated fairly is a trait to be cultivated.  

But I have little patience for it. I just want her to understand that life isn’t fair. Or do I want her to understand that? I’m not really sure how to deal with this. 

Maybe you know that balance is our theme for this month.

I am challenged by this theme. Perhaps you are too. I am challenged by this theme, at this time when most of us are beginning to emerge from a two-year period when nothing felt in harmony. And now (at the supposed end of the pandemic) to be thrown into a global sense of disharmony, of dread, because of the unwarranted destruction of lives, of order, the likes of which many of us have never experienced before—on top of the pandemic, it is just too much.

So maybe that is where I am coming from when the 7-year-old female twin comes home and has a fit that lasts hours. I just don’t want to hear it.

I have to wonder if it ever makes any sense to seek balance. What does equity even mean, in a time like this?

There is, of course, the age-old lament (laments are those things you find in the Old Testament, that have to do with saying “Life is not fair, never has been, never will be…”). That’s lament. It isn’t logical. It is just complaining: “I am going to complain to you guys up there.” Sometimes it releases things. Sometimes it does nothing.

Two colleagues that work for the UUA have recently written an article meant to help us all to gain new perspective. They begin, “We’re tired—and by “we,” we mean pretty much everyone. The fear, the uncertainty, the need to learn and relearn, to pivot and pivot again—it has taken its toll on congregational members, volunteer leaders, and staff alike. In addition, some of us have had our own physical health affected, and others have experienced the loss of family, friends, and/or congregants. It’s a lot.”

It is so much to deal with. How in the world would you even begin to balance the last two years out, if we are given the chance to? Perhaps five years on a deserted island, with all the food and drink I needed? But I am sure if there was someone else with me on the island, I’d find a way to get into an argument with them. 

Maybe we live in an out-of-whack culture. They say it is human nature to seek balance, but I am not sure about that. In our culture, more and more is always considered to be better. We have fallen for that myth in congregational life too, haven’t we? More is better. More visitors, more leaders, more money, more and more.

But more isn’t necessarily better.

We are trying to discern what this congregation’s resources will allow us to do. Not just money, but people and their energy. We don’t know exactly what “less is more” will look like. But I do believe there is an important spiritual message for this congregation to acknowledge its limitations while committing to care and compassion for all. It is hard, especially against a backdrop of complicated and traumatic days like ours. People just want their spirits uplifted. They want and need to stay grounded in their deepest values and to connect to something larger than themselves. We all long to find joy and kindness in our relationships with ourselves, with others, within our families, with our partners, perhaps even with other congregations.

Isn’t this what Unitarian Universalism is for, especially in times such as these? But it presents a dilemma, doesn’t it? Just when congregational life—Uuism—feels most essential, it seems to be the hardest thing to keep our religious communities engaged and thriving. People are falling away. They don’t have time for Sunday mornings, or they are scared, or their kids can’t come. On and on. There aren’t any magic formulas to fix this, even though my colleagues have some ideas to share, which I think may be helpful. 

Their first idea is to scale back. Prioritizing isn’t just about keeping or tossing. There are other ways to do things. Meet less often. If you are on a team or committee, do you really need to meet every month? Could you meet once a quarter, every other month? it is something to consider. Or make your meetings simpler: “this is what we are going to talk about and not 14 other things, too,” for example. Do what you do together either online or in person, but not both. Not Sunday mornings, of course; multi-platform is important for this hour. But there are plenty of meetings that can be and already are online-only. And there are plenty of fun events, like BTE (the Better Than Ever group) that are in person only. 

And, of course, my colleagues have lifted up a shared arrangement with another congregation, to lighten the load on each. Attending each other’s online worship once or twice a month and broadcasting it in your sanctuary, you trade back and forth. We are trying that.

Another thing they lift up, which I think is so important as a top priority, is to have meeting as FUN as the primary agenda. We did that on Friday night. We were talking about the business of finances on Friday night (at the pledge event) but it was FUN. We ate a lot of good food, tasty desserts. We talked to each other, we laughed and we smiled, and we saw slides of people smiling and laughing together.

They also talk about resetting expectations. It is okay to postpone big projects. It is okay not to meet as often as long as you communicate carefully about how you made that decision, to be clear and authentic and engaging. Tell people what the values were that you used to make that decision. If you are planning to be counter-cultural in the sense of “less is more,” then say so. Do things that things that revive the spirit first, save the “drudgery” for later. It could be about the valuing, simplifying, and decluttering minds and calendars as a spiritual exercise.

Additionally, follow the energy. What do people get excited about in this congregation? Eating together, gathering with each other. We have talked about that in the Right Size Task Force. Wouldn’t it be fun if there were more people on the BTE trips? Wouldn’t it be fun to have more UUs to talk with? 

What do people get excited about? Make fun a top priority. You’re likely to feel successful no matter what happens if fun is your top priority.

And give everyone a break! Jennie and I have learned that the hard way. We can have lots of opportunities available for young kids and parents to do and no one shows up. And we think, “What is wrong with them?” or “What is wrong with me?” I am tired of offering, offering, offering and no one coming. Give everyone a break, including yourself. 

We are tired. It is a lot. We are doing a lot. And it is enough. We are all enough.

And finally—perhaps this is really the first thing—show gratitude. Tell each other all the time, “What you are doing is great and appreciated and lovely and enough.” Create a culture of kindness and joy and appreciation. Many of you do that really well.

The thing I want to teach my daughter the most—and I know I have to model it for her—is for her to say to her younger brother, “I am so glad you had a wonderful time today. Look at that great toy, that the nanny bought you [so that you could stop having a fit for a time, and she could get some relief!]. Wow, can I play with you? Can you tell me what the park was like?” Maybe she is just not old enough for that yet. Maybe she is working on her equitable distribution/injustice monitoring skills. Kindness; we can all learn more kindness, more gratitude, more ways to say thank you!

Let’s teach each other how to be full of gratitude, full of thankfulness, full of love.

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