When I hear the word tension, all the negative feelings rise to the surface. I think of tense muscles, hard meetings, and walking-on-eggshells to avoid a burst. My knee-jerk definition of this word is a negative one.
Webster defines tension as “the condition of being strained or stressed.” Strained or stressed. I doubt anyone chose either of those as “word of the year” for 2021. Those are words that make us run and hide.
But what violin can make beautiful music if there is not tension in the strings? What tight-rope walker would even consider stepping on a rope where no tension exists? What discussion would actually make traction is both sides are not discussed, equally pulled?
Tension has been a buzz-word in Christianity in the past decade or two. “The tension is good,” they say. “Lean into it”. When I hear this, I waver between feeling like it sounds ambiguous and that it sounds desperately hard. I want resolution, not tension.
But Scripture teems with tension.
Jesus was full of grace and truth. Our hearts are desperately wicked and yet beautifully redeemed. We live in a kingdom that is under the constant tension of the already and the not-yet.
One of my favorite passages, 2 Corinthians 4, describes us as a people of contrasts, of tension:
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed
perplexed, but not driven to despair
Persecuted, but not forsaken
Struck down, but not destroyed
This passage puts us smack in the middle of that tension, feeling the full pull of sin. Afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down. Those are four weighted words/phrases. Things that remind us so much of the fall and the destruction of sin. But right next to each of those words, pulling the rope in the other direction, is the heavenly tension. We’re not crushed, despairing, forsaken, nor destroyed.
The rope is pulled taut from the heavenlies. And boy am I glad it is.
But it also makes it messy. It’s not tidy and neat. It’s literally a push/pull that we find ourselves in. And I long for the tension to be redeemed.
All of us have areas where this tension will be especially pricking. Sticking into soft places that hurt and make us cringe. For me, it’s my marital status.
I’m in my upper thirties, feet solidly set in a vibrant, fulfilling single life. Our Father has placed many dreams in my heart: dreams that can be lived out in vibrant ways in a solo life. And I also really want to know the companionship of marriage. It’s a hard tension to walk, this juggling of surrender and desire. And life has taught me something: it’s easier to live in surrender if those desires stay packed in some storage room way back in my heart.
My way to cope is to relegate those desires to the back room because living in the tension between desire and surrender is so stinkin’ hard, and I hardly know how to do it.
But God, in His love, sends in the movers to bring that box out to the front room, open the lid, and set it free. I’ll be honest, it doesn’t feel very loving. These days I find myself asking God whether it’s a loving move or a mean trick.
Holding two opposites in my own hand, feeling the push-and-pull of both, this is a strange place to stand. But perhaps this is just where we belong. Our very life in God is a paradox, a tension, for it is in death that we find life. And the dying flesh wars against the vibrant life in the Spirit within us.
So, my friend, if you find yourself in the push/pull and wishing it resolved, I can say I do to. But let’s hang in there until that final day of resolution, and choose to believe that maybe, just maybe, this tension is here as a gift of love.
So maybe the tension really is good after all.
Are there places in your life you are especially feeling a push/pull tension?