(Book begins with the Preface in the January 31 post.)
Living with the Tension
God’s balance does not involve swinging from extreme to extreme on the end of a trapeze. That scenario literally puts us at the end of our rope. And people hanging at the end of a rope often find it to be a noose. Instead, we can envision God’s balance as a tightrope. There will always be tension; in fact, there needs to be tension if we are to walk it successfully.
In his book, Walking the Straight and Narrow: Lessons in Faith from the High Wire, Tino Wallenda, one of the Flying Wallendas, probably the most famous name among tightrope walkers, talks about the importance of guide wires: “About every thirty feet, we have to attach two opposing ropes that go from the wire to the ground to be held at tight angles so that the wire can be kept taut. . . . [These] pair of guide ropes from the wire to the ground [are] in opposition to each other: one to the left and one to the right.” (Pages 92, 127)
What are the guide ropes that hold your tightrope in tension? I’ve decided it’s criticism. I know that probably sounds strange, but hear me out. When reporters write an article on an important but divisive issue, criticism will come. That, they say, is the sign of balanced journalism—being attacked from all sides.
No matter how you live your life, you will be criticized. Ask stay-at-home moms and working moms what the toughest thing to deal with in their choice and they’re likely to give you the same answer—the criticism from others who think they are doing the wrong thing. Your own guilt-laden thoughts will also create tension—Am I doing enough? Am I doing too much?
Use the tension to steady the wire. If criticism is coming from both extremes, quite possibly your life is in balance. If not, it may be time to reevaluate. For instance, if no one at work thinks you’re weird for the way you live for Jesus, maybe you’ve stepped off the tightrope and are wallowing in the world. But if everyone at work avoids you, maybe you’ve stepped off the other side and are so holier-than-thou you can’t relate to them.
Criticism and tension occur even in the church. When we really want to live for Christ, we can upset other Christians’ cozy normalcy. They don’t want to have to change, so they don’t want us to either. If we decide to spend Friday nights serving at a soup kitchen, other Christians might feel we’ve let them down by not playing on the church basketball team. On the other hand, if we head out for a great steak dinner, some well-meaning Christian may just feel the need to spoil our enjoyment by pointing out how many families in Haiti could be fed for a week on what we’re spending for one frivolous dinner.
Like the Wallendas, let the guide wires of criticism work for you, to steady your walk. If you hear calls from those on both sides that you’re not doing it right, quite possibly your walking your tightrope quite well. If your own conscience and desires seem to be fighting a daily tug-of-war on whether you are doing enough or too much, you may be right where you need to be.
Only as we consult God can we find the right balance for ourselves. He knows exactly what we should be doing and he doesn’t promise it will be easy. Learn to live with the tension and let it keep your path steady.
Michael and Debby are friends whom I consider excellent tightrope walkers. They seem to live with the tension every day. They enjoy their suburban home but don’t take it for granted. They see it as a gift from God and so use it to be hospitable to a wide range of people, not just people who are mirror images of themselves.
The two of them love a tantalizing meal out at a well-appointed restaurant but will attempt eating-out “fasts” or traditional fasts to raise money to alleviate world hunger and to remind themselves of the abundance they possess. While a fun day with friends is a blessing, Debby also takes the time to organize work days so people get a chance to build with Habitat, serve at soup kitchen or paint for a single mom. Their goal is to not get overly comfortable, to not let the tightrope go slack. They want that tension in their lives so they can mirror Christ in their world.
And that’s the goal of all who walk the tightrope. We learn to step carefully, so we don’t fall to one side or the other, landing on the soft pillow of materialism or the hard floor of asceticism. And we have an advantage over the typical tightrope walker—we walk with God. If we hold onto him, our feet will stay on the rope, and we will stay on course.