Managing life’s tensions

I just finished mowing the grass for the second time this week.  Whew!  With this summer’s heat and recent rainfall my well fertilized lawn is verdant with growth and has been requiring a cutting every three or four days just to stay on top of it. 

For me, summer lawn care and home maintenance projects always bring into focus the downside of home ownership.  Being a person who views such necessities as a nuisance more than a welcome diversion it makes me long for townhouse or condo living.  But there are many things I also enjoy about owning my own home that I am not presently willing to give up.  And so I am faced, as are most homeowners, with the tension of its benefits and liabilities.

Last week at the Willow Creek Association’s annual Leadership Summit I heard a great message entitled the Upside of Tension.  It was given by Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Community Church in Georgia.  His premise was that there are some tensions in life and in the church that are not meant to be resolved.  In fact solving them will likely just create new tensions.  They are tensions that are to be managed and not solved.  Andy’s point was that proper management of them actually produces great benefit and progress.

Applying this simple principle to the tension between home ownership and the maintenance it requires makes sense.  Understanding the seasonal rhythms of upkeep and project “opportunities” helps make the tension more palatable.  I had planned in the spring to refinish my deck, add a stairway and build a patio.  Unexpected twists and turns in my life and now the summer heat have put the project on hold.  I was really feeling the pressure to get it done but now with Andy’s message I am at peace with letting it be a tension I can manage rather than resolve.  There is always the fall or next year.  

Life presents all of us with some even bigger tensions that never seem to get resolved.  Think about the tension between rest versus work and home/family versus career.  What person out there has not had seasons of battle with these two tensions? 

Applying the principle of tension management rather than tension resolution works here as well.  For one it helps in reckoning that the tension isn’t going to go away but in fact has an upside.  And if we can learn to recognize the rhythm of their demands and manage the interplay between the two, our lives can actually be enriched by holding them in tension.

And here is a thought in which I would like your opinion.  It is a hypothesis that requires some testing.  It appears to me that in every tension between two opposing realms there is an interdependence in which giving priority to one over the other unlocks the proper management of both. 

For instance in the rest versus work tension, God’s Sabbath rest principle found throughout Scripture seems to place rest as the gatekeeper in maintaining a healthful balance between the two.  In other words, if we focus on incorporating proper rest in body, soul and spirit, our work lives will be governed for greater productivity and fulfillment.

In looking at the family/home versus career tension, the former seems to be God’s governor for properly managing this tension.  The biblical principle both in the Old and New Testament places a priority on managing ones family and household well as a prerequisite for sustainability and success in one’s life work.  Many have made shipwreck of both home and career when the home life went unattended.

Here are some additional church life tensions:  the Spirit versus the Word, freedom versus order, evangelism versus edification, loving God versus loving our neighbor, individual faith versus faith expressed in community etc.  Having been a pastor for over 30 years I can guarantee you that one or more of these tensions are being discussed wherever church people gather be it the staff meeting, the leadership meeting or the coffee klatch for Monday morning quarterbacks.

What other tensions can you think of in personal life or in the church?  Would you agree with my hypothesis?  In each of these tensions are there apparent gatekeepers or governors that unlock the wisdom necessary in managing them?  Please join the conversation. 

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6 thoughts on “Managing life’s tensions”


    Was just reminded of the importance of having the right tension with your bobbin and thread when using a sewing machine. If it is too tight, it can cause the fabric to bunch up and not smoothly run through the foot on the sewing machine. If it is too loose and or uneven-it also can cause problems and the sturdiness of the garment you are sewing would be in question. This is such a frustrating situation when it happens and the cause is usually unknown so you attempt to adjust and hope for the best or end up in a pool of frustration and give up. I think that a lot of people give up when they find themselves in a life situation that causes tension rather than taking the time to figure out how to fix it and then do so. It becomes much easier to just live with it or move-however if you want to wear the garment-you must deal with it. This is where some of the fruits of the spirit could well be applied and utilized or encouraged to grow.

  2. The sewing illustration – what an excellent example of the importance of balance in tension. For me it calls to mind Joseph and his coat of many colors and the tension it caused within his family. The tensions it created caused his brothers to sin against him in a truly onerous manner because they could not balance the tensions of their own emotions. Poor Joseph’s troubles didn’t end there either. Once in Egypt still other distressing circumstances befell him. Yet through it all God balanced the tensions of Josephs distress with the favor that God moved his captors to show him: Potiphar made him overseer of his household; the captain of the prison gave him charge over all the other prisoners; ultimately Pharaoh made Joseph Prime Minister of Egypt. Through all of this, Joseph recognized God’s hand of balance to take what was meant by his brothers for evil and to turn it for good. Now therefore, be not grieved or angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life. Gen. 45:5. Scripture reminds us continually of the ongoing tension between walking in the flesh and walking in the Spirit. When we walk more in the flesh than in the spirit the very fabric of our lives can become too loose, too tight, bunched up or torn apart.

  3. Bonnie – what a great illustration of the mess we can make when things aren’t held in proper tension.

  4. Candace – You make an excellent point of the way tension tests the fiber of our character. It has a way of facing us with a decision to walk in the Spirit or fulfill the lust of our flesh. The coat of many colors tested both Joseph and his brothers and in the end they all were the better for it, but not without much suffering.

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