“Nana, 17 plus 15 equals 32,” six-year-old Bailey said proudly.

“You’re so smart!” I replied.

A few days later, he made the same statement, beaming with pride once again.

I don’t know when or where or why or how he learned that addition fact, but, for some reason, it has stuck in his mind. And since he realizes it is a “high number,” he feels pretty smart, and rightly so.

That triggered memories of young students I taught many years ago. I remembered how they struggled to learn the basic addition and subtraction facts. But once they’d learned how to add two single digits together (nine plus nine, for example), they were ready to tackle double digits (like Bailey was doing), as well as numbers with multiple digits.

The higher the numbers, the more difficult the process. But most students caught on fairly quickly to adding numbers such as 3489 plus 6795. However, they really struggled to learn how to subtract even two-digit numbers.

Children aren’t the only ones who find it hard to subtract or to “take away,” as we called it. I realized that anew while reading a book a friend had given me. In The Intentional Woman, the authors admit having to struggle with what to take away in order to live a more balanced life. For example, co-author Carol Travilla says that she, like everyone else, gains more relationships every year: new acquaintances, new family members, new friends, new neighbors. Yet she still wants to keep in touch with those in her current and past circles. Since factors (time and energy, to name just two!) Prevent her from doing so, she struggles to figure out what relationships and activities to subtract in order to experience the blessings that come with each new season of her life.

But the authors aren’t the only adults who find it difficult to subtract. Most of us find it easy to shop for new clothes and then simply add them to the wardrobe. But it’s harder to follow the advice of organizational experts and discard the same number of items we’ve added.

It’s also pleasant to add new members to the family. But, oh how we grieve when we must give up a family member.

We like depositing money in our checking accounts, too, but we surely do hate writing checks and seeing our hard-earned money slipping away.

Additionally, our culture encourages us to be more and do more—in less time. Consequently, we struggle to achieve any semblance of balance in our lives. But, as the authors of The Intentional Woman point out, God gives us only one life, yet He never pushes us to fill every moment with frenzied activities. Quite the contrary!

The Bible repeatedly reminds us to slow down and to contemplate what we need to take away from our busy lives in order to spend more time with Him and with those people and purposes that truly matter. Unless we realize the importance of subtracting and then consistently take away even good things in order to make room for the best things, we will continue to feel stressed, fragmented, and out of balance.