Ask a Sister … About Work / Life Balance

St. Scholastica's Student Newspaper
The Cable
Photo credit to duluthbenedictines.org

Photo credit to duluthbenedictines.org

by Sister Edith Bogue ebogue@css.edu

A disclaimer: A student once called me "the Sister who never sleeps;" you might question whether I can write about work/life balance. Here's the bad news: Benedictine balance is not about having a lot of free time.

What do Benedictines mean by balance? I don't like the term "balance." Benedictines use it as shorthand for arranging a life of varied components where no part dominates the others: a spiritual approach to time management. No one follows St Benedict's precise regulations today; his monks began their day at 1:30AM! But we do follow his principles.

How do the bells fit in with balance? Bells call the Sisters to prayer as well as inviting everyone on campus to join us. St. Benedict organized his daily schedule around eight times of prayer (yes, eight!) and assigned a "reliable brother" to call the monks to prayer. Monasteries kept a schedule by ringing bells long before the school bell came into existence.

This is the beginning of Benedictine balance: important things like prayer are scheduled first.

So balance is just regular prayer? No - it's about rhythm. There's a rumor that one pope decades ago used to say ALL of his daily prayer first thing in the morning, then work straight through the day. If that's true, he lost the rhythm of his day. Benedictine balance sets time aside for contemplative reading, work, community prayer, meals in common (often with laughter and companionship), silence, private prayer, and leisure. Meals and community liturgies are central for all the Sisters: we do them together. Our individual jobs are scheduled next, and then all the other pieces fit in around it.

That's the second piece of Benedictine balance: living by a schedule that has both rhythm and variety.

Why don't you like to call it balance? People talk about work/life or work/play balance. It's clear that life or play is desirable while work is mandatory - even when it's interesting. They really mean: I want more life, more play; there is too much work. Benedictine balance is different. It includes leisure: enriching the spirit with nature or music, enjoying crafts or activities, getting adequate sleep and exercise. But leisure is not in opposition to work: they are woven together. All the elements of life are important, each in the right amount.

Benedictines have a recipe more than a balance: combining good ingredients into a single delectable dish.

What makes it Benedictine? Benedict set out the pattern. Where 21st century people contort their physical and psychological needs to cram everything possible into a schedule, Benedict began with the person. He put the spiritual life first, then took account of basic needs (there's a bathroom break in the Rule's Chapter 8). Everything else must fit around that. Benedictine Sisters are always busy doing something - no one retires, they are just recycled - but not in a stressed, haphazard way. Benedictine balance, at its best, is active, mindful, and meaningful.

The best part about Benedictine balance? You don't have to be Benedictine to do it.