Graduate student, Steven Chapman, shared this story on September 23rd, for the sermon series, “Wholly Living: 10 Ingredients.” You can also listen to it here.
A few weeks ago, Mark asked if I’d be willing to share my story about “wholly” living, and to be honest, I was surprised he asked me. Living a balanced life is something I consider myself pretty bad at. But this week I’ve had time to reflect on the elements of living a balanced life, and I’ve decided that “wholly” living not simply to check boxes off a list, but rather taking steps and intentionally making progress toward this larger goal. And this is where I’ve made the most progress for myself. Let me set the scene.
My junior year of undergrad was among the most unbalanced time in my post-high school life so far. I had no idea of a school/life balance, so I worked for classes and in the lab longer hours than I should’ve. This lack of school/life balance kept me awake into the early hours resulting in less sleep at night, loss of concentration in the day, more work to catch up in lectures, and more headaches literally and figuratively. I would work through breakfast and lunch most days, often meaning my only meal was late in the evening. I never considered myself religious, and I actually purposefully kept my distance from most religious groups. Still in junior year, I had not told anyone I was gay, and I actively tried to keep that secret. Keeping this secret steered some conversations, controlled some actions, and made me feel isolated from even my closer friends in undergrad. Not surprisingly, living this unbalanced life resulted in a fairly negative self-image of myself, constantly cutting away at my own confidence and feelings of self-worth. I vividly remember the day, January 17th, when I first realized that I hated that current trajectory of my life. That was the day I knew I needed to make changes.
I started making changes by priority, and first I needed to learn how to be content with who I am. I picked a friend to confide in; it’s amazing just how helpful it is to speak openly and honestly about life with someone. He actually re-introduced me to religion and spirituality and the many different forms that can take. This re-introduction I originally was strongly against, but my attendance here at Pres House illustrates just how futile my oppositions became. I made friends with others while discussing my insecurities and vulnerabilities, not in spite of them. And it was the first time I could remember someone holding my secrets and concerns as carefully as they hold their own. It took me about a year to gain peace and confidence with myself personally, and from there I was able to put more energy into improving more aspects of my life.
At the very end of undergrad, I decided to improve my problematic school/life balance. No matter how much work I needed to do, I decided I would stop and be ready to fall asleep by midnight. This gave me between 7-8 hours of sleep every night, which was a bizarre concept. I seriously cannot overstate how a proper amount of sleep will make your day so much better and more productive. Spending more time sleeping actually gave me more time during the day because I was more attentive and efficient with my classwork. And having more time in my day was something I really needed at the start of grad school.
So, my first year in Madison I lived without a roommate, and I took the opportunity to experiment with meal preparation without feeling judged for failing to make simple dishes. During this, I forgot some ingredients, burned a fair share of rice on the stovetop, learned the importance of thawing chicken before it’s cooked, and I also learned what meals work with my grad school schedule. It’s really a small step, but I actually eat 3 meals a day now, something I never did during undergrad. And this small change has given me more energy to continue taking steps toward a more holistic lifestyle.
I began to embrace the feeling of being vulnerable with others, and moving to Madison was the first time I began publicly identifying as gay. This was a step I honestly really struggled with, but the support I received from friends at Pres House, in my grad school program, and in the community was amazing. I’ve been able to build relationships here without keeping any secrets about myself, and it’s made my friendships more honest and personal. I’ve told my family and friends from undergrad, and being my authentic self with everyone in my life has only made me a stronger, happier, and more confident person.
I share these anecdotes to say that wholly living is not something that you simply flip on like a light switch. In my mind, wholly living is a continuous path toward improving yourself or improving a situation. Wholly living includes burning rice on the stove top or cutting into a piece of raw chicken, because that’s an important part of journey. More recently, in search of a new aspect of my life for improvement, I started a regular exercise schedule. I was an absolute mess my first couple months trying to figure this out, but I’ve fallen into an exercise routine that works well for me. The goal of this was simply to live a healthier life, yet the day-to-day benefits have exceeded my expectations. Physical exercise has improved my energy level in the morning, meaning I no longer start my day with coffee. It’s helped me with my own mental health, and it’s helped me make some healthier food choices. By no means have I figured out a perfectly balanced life, and there’s many more areas in my life I see room for improvements, but I’m taking them one at a time without any rush.
So, I think wholly living is a very individualized and personal thing. Balancing aspects of your work life and personal life and spiritual life is a different recipe for everyone. You don’t want to forget ingredients, but it’s okay when you accidently add the wrong amounts sometimes. Just keep going and keep making intentional progress toward your ultimate goal of wholly living.