The Plate Spinner: Advice for busy young adults
Dev Menon, Zion Bishan Bible Presbyterian Church // March 30, 2017, 4:40 pm
Have you ever seen a plate spinner? A guy sets up a stick, puts a ridiculously fragile plate on top of it and spins the stick, such that the plate on top spins in tandem and stays upright in an impossible-looking feat. Then he gets another stick and another totally breakable plate and does the same … so on and so forth … until he has a whole line of spinning plates on sticks.
It’s all very entertaining. But to keep them upright, he’s got to run from stick to stick to spin the ones that are slowing down, because if they slow down too much, the plate will start to wobble and come crashing down. So he runs from one stick to the next like some frantic chicken — the more plates there are, the more frantic he is, keeping them all spinning and upright.
To me, the average Christian Singaporean working young adult looks exactly like a plate spinner. It doesn’t seem to be a healthy and balanced a lifestyle, does it?
DOCTOR, DOCTOR, AM I A LITTLE UNWELL?
Is “frenetic” the way life feels when things are going well? Does this mean life is going right? Or is it the sign of something going wrong?
Sometimes it’s not so easy to tell. On one hand, some people say that if you are too free and relaxed, then it must be because you are lazy. If you aren’t thriving in all the right areas — old family, new family, work, exercise, studies, church, and friends — then you are not living up to your “full potential” (whatever that means).
People imply that if you are not perpetually in “headless-chicken” mode, something must be wrong. Yet on the other hand, some say that to be flat-out tired all the time is a bad thing.
Is it, really? Is being tired a sin? Is it a sign of a good life that we look perpetually refreshed, well groomed, and chirpy at all times? It seems to me, though, that many biblical characters, including Jesus, were no less than perpetually exhausted, often sorrowful, and rather confused.
People imply that if you are not perpetually in “headless-chicken” mode, something must be wrong.
So, no. We can’t diagnose our health solely based on our level of activity. I’d suggest that if feeling “tossed and turned” describes your life, then perhaps things are not going so well, regardless of how busy you may actually be. You feel like you are running around spinning plates, barely keeping them upright. You feel barely afloat – your head may be just bobbing above the waterline.
Life is not really going well if you feel that everything is getting to you and overwhelming you. Let me suggest to you some symptoms …
SIGNS THAT LIFE IS OVERWHELMING YOU
1. Perennial Tiredness
I don’t mean physical tiredness. What I’m talking about is more an emotional feeling of tiredness. In Singapore we have a word for it: sian. It’s the feeling that despite all you may be accomplishing, there is a growing sense of frustration or lack of joy.
2. Lethargy — lack of enthusiasm
Once you loved doing all these things, even when circumstances were difficult. Now there may no longer be any stress factors, but still you find yourself waning in enthusiasm. Why is it so hard to be happy?
3. Inadequacy — constantly feeling not good enough
You are noticing the tiredness of having to run around frantically, but your peers or colleagues seem perfectly fine and very accomplished at this art. Since you find that you cannot maintain the plate-spinning, you begin to reflect whether the problem is with you and your lack of self-discipline. You begin to doubt yourself, especially your capabilities. Perhaps you may have some form of identity issues stirring up: “Who am I, really?”
4. Guilt that you haven’t done enough
This is especially when other parties involved constantly tell you that you haven’t been living up to their expectations. Your spouse lets you know, your kids let you know, your parents let you know, your boss lets you know, and even your pastor lets you know. You need to wake up — you are not doing enough!
5.“The Daily Grind” – doing things because you have to
From a lack of enthusiasm, life switches to drudgery. You have drooping hands and heavy feet as you go into the office, or come back home or waking up early on Sunday mornings for church. There is a certain sense of heaviness about you. You have the “I can’t get out of bed” syndrome. You are also either losing or putting on weight — and it’s noticeable!
6. Bitterness and despair
The default feelings you have, on top of guilt and insufficiency, are now despair and bitterness. Things have switched from “I’m a bit tired” to “Why can’t I get everything to work out?“ to “It’s all my fault” to “Who cares?” to “Get lost! Leave me alone!” By now, things are no longer just uncomfortable or tiring — they are rather quite dangerous.
7. We let one plate fall…
Then one day, you can’t take it. You just let one thing give way — either by accident, or worse, on purpose. You get fired in your job; you can’t maintain the pace. You get scolded one time too many by your spouse. You’ve had one too many arguments — enough is enough. The last sermon you heard urging you to serve in church just pushed you over the limit — that’s it, you’re leaving. The next person who makes a comment on your change in weight suddenly ends up hearing a 30-minute lecture from you.
8. Remorse and anger
Bitterness and despair take a stronger turn. Now everyone is your enemy.
9. Quitting time
You find that in a matter of months or a few years, the other plates also begin to slow down. Some fall too. Church fails, then your relationship with your significant other fails, then your friendships fail, then you find yourself lacking motivation to go to work anymore. Then you have a decision to make: Run away and reset everything, or give up and simply do the bare minimum to make ends meet. Yes, it can actually get that bad. And sad to say, it often happens, even to life-long Christians. There have been too many stories.
MURDERED BY BALANCE
How did all of this happen? Didn’t we start well? Why is it all turning into mush?
Perhaps what is causing some of these issues is the way we think about things. We think that a healthy life is a balanced life. That’s what our society, family, and culture (and sometimes church, too) say. We listen to everyone’s expectations of what is good for us, and we try to excel at each one of them — causing tremendous strain on all segments.
The reality is that this sort of balanced life is quite insane. This whole concept of simply portioning out time and energy to the various segments of life and trying to do all of them well is completely ridiculous. It almost always leads to stress, pain and unrealistic expectations which are never met, causing a deep sense of inadequacy and guilt for those who try to follow, eventually leading to frustration and anger.
Simply put, plate-spinning is suicidal. Balance will kill us.
The process of centring your life on someone is not an easy one – it needs a lot of work.
If I excel in my work, and spend my time and energy there, my family suffers. If I spend time with my friends, my studies suffer. If I spend time with my kids, my work suffers, and so on and so forth. The more time I spend spinning one plate, the more dangerously precarious the situation gets with the others. And I’d have to spend my time running around, always trying to compensate.
What we need to do is to centre our lives on someone. That someone is Jesus.
The process of centring your life on someone is not an easy one. It takes a lot of time, space, and effort (and often a lot of money) to make it happen. Someone doesn’t just become the centre of your life like that — it needs a lot of work. Without that work, we can say that Jesus is at the centre, but times of testing, persecution, busyness — stress — will soon sniff out who or what our lives really revolve around.
HOW YOU’LL KNOW IF YOUR LIFE IS CENTRED ON CHRIST
1. The segments of our lives are formatted around our relationship with Christ
Everything we do will be because we trust Jesus. We work because that’s what He wants us to do — including the type of work. If work takes us away from Jesus, we change jobs or we quit our career altogether. He is the centre. Work is simply a means to an end. If other relationships take us away from Him, we change or cut off those relationships, and start new ones that help us further improve our relationship with the One.
2. There is clarity. We know “Why”
One of the big signs someone is in a restful relationship is when they have a clear sense of calling and purpose in life. They have a deep sense of the future and how things in the present relate to that. These are the people who make better decisions in their jobs and families, and even in their leisure times. Because they know what God calls them to do.
3. Different segments integrate, not tear apart
Rather than having a life trying to constantly compensate for plates that are slowing down in their spinning, somehow these people seem to be busy, but free at the same time. That’s how you know life is integrating. Different facets come together and help one another; you have a holistic life. You are growing as a person, not simply as a taskmaster.
4. Seasons of life hold no threat to you
We all have different seasons of life. Time to work more, time to family more, time to rest more. A balanced life cannot understand this. We must work hard, play hard, family hard, and so on, all the time. A centred life knows when to tone down one segment, and spend more time with the other segments — and yet is not afraid of everything unravelling at the seams. A person could cut down his work hours or his salary without fear, for he knows that what is important at that point is family time. A centred life can look extremely unbalanced at certain times. But these people are thriving!
5. A better sense of personal identity
When we’re plate-spinning, we often live according to the expectations of others. We do what other people say is good. Yet because most of these expectations pull in opposite directions, we often find ourselves asking, “Who am I?” That leads to some people quitting everything and starting a new life. We cut all ties and run away just to get those voices out of our heads because we want to know who we are deep down inside. However, once we’ve managed to centre our lives on Jesus, we begin to get a better sense of our personal identity.
CHRIST IN ME, THE HOPE OF GLORY
Christ liberates us to become who we were always meant to be — first and foremost, children of our heavenly Father. We don’t lose ourselves when we establish our relationship with Jesus. We find ourselves and we are defined by Him.
A centred life lives for the enjoyment of the One in the centre. Everything we do is to enhance our already good relationship with Jesus.That is a sure sign of rest! What a restful relationship always points to is a desire to keep improving that relationship — as odd as that may sound.
Shouldn’t the most characteristic feeling about the Christian life be one of rest? A restful life where work is easy, burdens are light. A restful life where it actually feels like life. You’ll feel alive even while being tired, even in the midst of having to run around serving others all day.
That’s the Christian life that God calls you to. So, go spend time with Him. Make some space to do so.
He’s waiting there with open arms.
This article is an edited excerpt from Dev Menon’s book, The Plate Spinner: A Little Book for Busy Young Adults. It can be purchased here at the Graceworks Store. Dev currently serves as a pastor at Zion Bishan Bible-Presbyterian Church and has ministered to young adults for many years.