Work|Life Balance – A Modern (and Dangerous) Myth Integrate

August 7, 2023

Understanding Priorities

Many years ago, I would have been a fan of a planning process we are all familiar with: Name various dimensions to your personal life, assess how you’re doing in each, prioritize them based on level of need, then create a plan to advance.

The first time I recall being guided into an experience like that was when I was a student with Campus Crusade (now Cru), and I was challenged to understand that Luke 2:52 (“Jesus grew in wisdom, and in stature; in favor with God and man”) was a helpful model for thinking through dimensions of intellect, physical health, spiritual growth, and social relationships in my pursuit of maturity and growth.

Later I became aware of various visualizations, most frequently being the “pie chart,” where one names family, work, God, friendships, health, intellectual growth, etc., and shows the relative attention or focus each area receives. 

This can be helpful for seeing all the competing demands, but it can sometimes be difficult to know how to reconcile the highest priorities (God, family) with the greatest time commitments (usually work or school). The distribution of the pie never looked quite right. 

Then, there is the famous illustration of the “big rocks” versus the “small rocks” – admittedly very compelling – to prove that by addressing the big things first, the small things do, in fact, find a place in the whole. But – and this is the powerful point – if you attend to the small things first, the big rocks just will not fit in the container… at least not all of them. You always end up with some huge priority that has been jettisoned for the sake of smaller things.

The big rock illustration is compelling because we can relate. We scroll on Instagram for a few, whoops 40 minutes, and now the commitment I made to a teammate didn’t get done by the end of the day. The big rock didn’t go in first.

God didn’t “compete” for time with the rest… God is present to – holding – every dimension.

Over the years, at least as it relates to the pie chart, I sensed that my relationship with God wasn’t merely one of the pieces of my pie. God, and more specifically my experience of life with God, was more akin to the pie plate – never referenced, but actually holding the whole thing together. Things worked a lot better when I viewed my life with God that way. God didn’t “compete” for time with the rest… God is present to – holding – every dimension.

Each of these metaphors can be helpful, but each contains what I have come to believe is a dangerous flaw. We recognize, of course, that no metaphor is perfect. But hang with me as I think this warrants exploration. And to be fair, to some extent, I still believe in this as a method (more on that below).

The dangerous flaw is this: Each depicts various dimensions of one’s life as being essentially separate from the others. They are independent, intact, and self-contained.

The problem is, that’s just not how humans work.

How Things Work

When I was a kid, I loved understanding how things work. Maybe you’ve seen those books? They’re pretty cool. I think that’s also why I love biology, the natural sciences, and thinking deeply about complex situations, problems, and people. 

For example, I wanted to figure out how Aunt Marge’s knitting machine on the dining room table worked. Unfortunately, in my curiosity, I changed many of the painstakingly positioned levers, undoing hours of her creative work.  I got in trouble again with Aunt Marge as I tried to figure out how the flimsy film lines attached to the back window of her Jeep could successfully defrost ice on the other side of the window. Did I mention the film was flimsy? UGH. My exploration there was also destructive, particularly in Buffalo, New York. Sigh. 

My dad was a professional cancer research scientist for his entire career, though he did many other things besides. One scripture that represented his quest for knowledge of the eosinophile, a type of white blood cell (did you know they triple in number during the night while you sleep?!), was this: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, and the glory of kings to search it out” (Proverbs 25:2).

When facing the implosion of my own physical, spiritual, mental, and relational health, I found myself asking God, “How is this supposed to work?”

When facing the implosion of my own physical, spiritual, mental, and relational health, I found myself asking God, “How is this supposed to work?” I was doing all the “right” things for someone in Christian leadership: Serving sacrificially and supporting my church, friends, husband, and children. But the state I was in bore evidence to the fact that I clearly had not been given the owner’s manual to my own soul.

When I learned of the process of spiritual formation, and then of the writing and thinking of Dallas Willard, I finally had quotable sources to explain what I had been championing: The soul drives everything that matters to you. It is all integrated!

I began to refer to Renovation of the Heart as the “Gray’s Anatomy” for the soul, an anatomy book of sorts, explaining – biblically and philosophically – how the soul actually works. What are the various parts and how do they fit together? How does spiritual formation actually work? That’s what Dallas Willard’s work helped me understand more deeply. How human transformation works. 

Hear Dallas’s southern drawl in the opening chapter on the soul: 

What is running your life at any given moment is your soul. Not external circumstances, or your thoughts, or your intentions, or even your feelings, but your soul. The soul is that aspect of your whole being that correlates, integrates and enlivens everything going on in the various dimensions of the self. It is the life-center of the human being. (Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard, NavPress, 2002)

The Hidden Illness: Living Dis-Integrated 

Like an air-traffic control tower that has gone offline, or when the electrical grid to a city goes dark, when the soul has been compromised in terms of its wellness, the entire operation malfunctions. And in the case of humans, it’s us that malfunction. We don’t sign up for this – it’s simply the fact of how integrated we are. Integration is not a goal we aspire to, it’s a reality we align to.

A similar truth was observed many years ago by Cecil B. DeMille (pioneer of the American film industry and producer of more than 70 works including The Ten Commandments), who had this to say at a commencement speech at BYU: “We cannot break the Ten Commandments. We can only break ourselves against them…”

Damage in one area impacts all.

We often talk about working toward living integrated or dis-integrated lives, and what the results of that might be… especially for leaders. And just as Cecil writes about the Ten Commandments, “We cannot break the Ten Commandments. We can only break ourselves against them,” the same can be said about the principle of integration. We have been created with a soul that constantly integrates all the dimensions of our “self” or our personhood. BECAUSE of that integration, and not in order to CREATE it, we recognize that damage in one area impacts all and vice versa. Improvements in one area start to generate improvements elsewhere. If we do not live with this mental model of the human soul, if we do not make choices that are aligned with this integration, we will indeed break ourselves against it.

Too much focus on work and suddenly marriages can disintegrate. Children do not want to be with their busy, distracted parents.

Careers end as well, sometimes in the midst of outward success, a death due to failures in adjacent spaces. This is illustrated in our many metaphors (big rocks, pie charts, and the like), where they remain inert to the other priorities against which they are positioned. 

The fact of integration means we either benefit from living wisely according to it, or harm ourselves and others imagining each “sphere” of endeavor to be a world unto itself. 

Of course, the reverse is also true! Courageous moves to invest in compromised relationships, or in one’s own mental health, can similarly have disproportionate impacts on our work, on our physical health, and every other area of our lives. Why? Because it’s all connected. For better or for worse, the fact of integration means we either benefit from living wisely according to it, or harm ourselves and others imagining each “sphere” of endeavor to be a world unto itself. 

For many years in the church, we have adopted the piece-part view of the human soul. And we are reaping what we have sown in terms of the impact of this perspective. Even a more Western interpretation has often been applied to various scriptures that speak of loving God with heart, soul, mind, strength… or growing our heart, soul, spirit… all of which have had the effect of us trying to isolate and differentiate, rather than see them as multiple ways of referring to a whole.

So How Do We Live?

How hard will it be to change this? To see this trend reversed? The good news is, I believe this is easily changed. Let’s dive into one of my favorite stories from my History of Science course back at Cornell. 

In the mid-1800s, there was a mysterious illness referred to as childbed fever that, in some parts of the world including the United States, was causing the death of 6 out of 10 women within three days of childbirth. A healthy baby would be delivered, the new mother would begin having a fever and, within 72 hours, she would die. 

Newborns without their mother to raise them, families devastated, husbands grieving… it’s difficult to imagine the degree of suffering and loss. Can you imagine if more than 50% of your friends and acquaintances would have died after giving birth? That’s a significant number.

Enter the Hungarian doctor Ignaz Semmelweis. When he began his new job in the maternity clinic at the General Hospital in Vienna, he began trying to figure out why so many women were dying. It didn’t take him long to discover that women in the clinic staffed by doctors and medical students were dying at a rate five times that of women in the midwives’ clinic. 

But why?

He immediately noticed differences between the two clinics: The midwives’ patients gave birth on their sides while the doctors’ patients gave birth on their backs. In the doctors’ ward, after a woman died, a priest would walk through ringing a bell. But even after he had women in the doctors’ clinic give birth on their sides and he convinced the priests to tone it down with the bell, he still couldn’t discover the reason for the higher maternal mortality rates. 

It wasn’t until a friend of his, a pathologist, also died of childbed fever that Semmelweis figured it out. His friend had died after pricking his finger while performing an autopsy of a woman who had died from the disease. Then he realized that only doctors did autopsies. Midwives did not. He hypothesized there was a link between the cadaverous material and the disease.

He ordered his medical staff to wash their hands and instruments with soap and a chlorine solution. He knew nothing about germs. He simply wanted to make sure there were no cadaverous materials getting close to women giving birth. 

And immediately the rate of childbed fever dropped dramatically.

When we adopt simple practices that are alert to an invisible reality, dramatic changes can happen very swiftly. This is the very real opportunity before every single one of us… the opportunity before the church right now. But are we too busy to take care of the soul? Our own souls? Other souls? Doesn’t the work still need to be done, the mission still need to be addressed as our first priority?

You would assume that everyone was excited about the discovery, right? Semmelweis had figured it out. The rates of childbed fever were plummeting. Mothers were surviving.

But that wasn’t the case. The doctors didn’t like the fact that Semmelweis’ conclusion made it look like they were the ones giving the sickness to people (they were). And because of the tactless way that Semmelweis continued to hammer home his message (publicly criticizing anyone who disagreed with him), the doctors eventually gave up on handwashing. And Semmelweis was fired. 

Semmelweis offered them a look into how medicine and science and practice were all integrated, but they rejected this integrated view, preferring their traditional way of doing things. 

This, too, is Us

Some of us are doing the same thing: Rejecting an integrated understanding of how the soul actually works. Leaders are often the ones perpetuating this very lopsided view of what it is to be human… all that matters is production, the external facade is the most important thing, who you are on the front stage of your life is all that matters (as Jimmy Dodd has so eloquently put it). 

There is an invitation to align with the reality of your integrated life. How we respond to that invitation has implications in every area – physically, financially, relationally, vocationally, and emotionally. If we disproportionately focus on one of those, raising it up above the others, then we will break ourselves against the principle of integration that is at work all around us. 

On the flip side, when we make advances across each of these domains and begin to live in light of the integration, we will see disproportionate gains. 

I’ve known leaders who have completely jettisoned their physical well-being, quoting Bible verses that emphasize the spiritual above the physical, who eventually became so unwell as to undermine their ministry’s effectiveness. I’ve seen leaders so focused on vocational success that their relationships get completely trashed, either by virtue of neglect and abandonment or through the abuse and mistreatment of those they lead. I’m sure you’ve seen this reality at work in your own life and organization.

But the reverse is true as well.. And. So. Compelling. I’ve been encouraged by many many leaders who are living and leading holistically from a committed, integrated self. 

My friend Angie Ward is one example, and particularly noteworthy as she holds significant leadership responsibility in academics. She has recently been named Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program and Associate Professor of Leadership and Ministry at Denver Seminary. She’s a boss! She and her husband Dave welcomed my husband and I on the nights the Marshall Fires destroyed so much of our property and neighborhoods in December 2021. Together we’ve walked through all sorts of personal and professional challenges, and, through it all, Angie remains an inspiring example of living quite alert to the many dimensions that influence her overall wellbeing and effectiveness. In Angie, both as a friend and as a leader, I see someone who is living an integrated life… one that I aspire to.

My friend Ben Cachiaras is another great example. He’s a high-fun-factor and high-capacity leader with a large, visionary organization and team. We served together for several years on a board, and I also had the opportunity to serve with him on the front stage and backstage, literally, at his church! Same guy in both places. I’ve had dinner with him and his wife of 33 years, Karla, on several occasions. He contends for the soul health of his team. His staff holds to a shared rule of life. They talk about rhythms of soul care and sabbath-keeping in the midst of a demanding ministry. And the fruit of this intentional grounding in God? Mountain Christian has been bursting with vision and impact and, well, health. The congregation is challenged in very practical ways to engage their own spiritual life, to embrace the importance of mental health, to name and manage grief, to live generously, and much more. 

For his own life and those he leads, Ben is alert to a life of integration – sensible, creative, courageous, fit, authentic, and radically dependent on God. I see in him someone who lives and leads out of his receiving from God and that flourishing is making its way into all the different areas of his life.

Of course, there are many, many more… a growing tribe, in fact! Perhaps this is you today. Perhaps not yet. 

As a leader, are you, like Semmelweis, seeking integration in the world around you, leading people into better ways of living? Or are you elevating one area of life above all others, creating systems and environments that bring death and dis-integration?

As a leader, are you, like Semmelweis, seeking integration in the world around you, leading people into better ways of living? Or are you elevating one area of life above all others, creating systems and environments that bring death and dis-integration?

When considering the wellbeing of the soul, then, what actions can we take to support the holistic wellbeing of the soul in those around us?

A Few Tools

Our team at Soul Care has been working hard this year creating a variety of free and paid resources and tools that will help all of us move towards lives of integration while caring for our souls. Here are just a few of them that you might want to check out!

Soul Care for Leaders is a free, 12-week email series that encourages leaders to care for their own souls and the souls of those in their care and provides practical ways to do this. Click to sign up and begin the series!

The Soul Care Plan helps you identify the current state of your soul, put words to what is missing, and then plot a path into new and exciting territory. In the Soul Care Plan, we encourage you to examine the five dimensions of flourishing in your own life and honestly consider the ways God is inviting you to care for your soul. 

The SOS Journey (Strengthen Our Souls) includes videos, a digital course booklet, access to an online course facilitator, and two individual Spiritual Directions sessions, all coming together to create a path to greater soul health. We can’t wait to see where this journey leads you!

Mindy Caliguire

Mindy Caliguire

Mindy Caliguire is Founder/President of Soul Care – a spiritual formation ministry that exists to increase soul health in the Body of Christ. She’s served in executive leadership in both ministry and marketplace contexts, is a former board member of Leadership Network, and currently serves on Stadia Church Planting and LeaderCare boards. She speaks and writes on the topics of Soul Care and leads the growing team at who work with individuals and organizations to bring leaders to life by focusing on the health of the soul. 
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