I’m betting that somewhere in your body you feel tension—we all do in some way.
I notice mine when the ache is pinching, or it’s hammering into my thoughts. Historically, I didn’t notice it until it couldn’t be ignored. But over the years I’ve learned to scan my body more regularly. It started when I began times of focused prayer with breath. I noticed as I breathed deeply and with attention that there were more muscles held on alert. Not only were my crunching shoulders holding tight, but my toes, forearms, and eyebrows. As I prayed with my breath, the threshold of meeting God became a place of release, relax and receive. For some of you, this might be the place God is inviting you to. In fact most of us could benefit from more prayer like this as our culture, both American and Christian cultures, drive us on, overriding our bodies’ signals as we produce, meet the need, and demonstrate our responsibility, achievement, and worth.
So maybe take a slow moment now to breathe deeply and ask yourself,
Where is my body tense?
Keep breathing deeply and focus on releasing that place. Ask,
What is this tension revealing?
Tell God what you think it is. Allow him into that place. Then,
What are you saying to me through it, Lord?
And don’t be dismayed if it brings up emotion, it often does. God is aware of it but often we are not. He is meeting you there.
I invite you to do this every day. It is the human condition to live in tension, and God meets us in our human condition—first by creating us, second by encountering us within. God structured creation to hold tension and for him to be in it. Where we feel stretching pulls on us is a place of integration, where disparate parts are held whole. God teaches us to respond to him through it, and to bring us into more intimate relationship with him as we navigate them together.
Let me illustrate how God has used tension in my relationship with him. Because of my personality I am constantly in a state of evaluating multiple contextual factors to make right and good decisions. I deeply want to be ethical, to be conscientious and to be right. But when I pursue this absolutely, I become rigid and controlling, or paralyzed, as if a knot has developed on this muscle and locked me at the extreme of tightness. As I breathed and listened to God through my tension I came to know his melting mercy. I began to let go of my expectations, to allow myself to be wrong, to not be responsible for everything and everyone, and rest. Grace says “Enough, you are enough!”
At first, it felt like “giving in” to self-indulgence, and I doubted that it was God. But he consistently kept inviting me to what I actually deeply desired—to be unburdened, not be responsible for it all, to be comfortable and have fun, and most of all, to rest. It took me a while to trust that this really was God’s invitation, but as I practiced accepting his grace in this way, I began to have deep encounters with him. Resting in God’s accepting, unflinching regard of love for me, trusting him to sustain me and everything I’m concerned about has proven to be the place where God massages the pain of clenched effort out of me. This is the first and foundational posture of grace towards me.
The second posture is not only towards, but with, even within. As I’ve integrated my seemingly opposing drives—to pursue integrity and to receive love, to act justly and to be at peace, to be responsible and to enjoy life—there emerges a conviction and dynamic of doing all of it together, God and me. I know God in his gentle receiving of my overwhelm and in the energetic effort to work for tangible justice. My action towards ethics and integrity became more realistic, compassionate, and focused. Sensitivity to the Spirit is growing so that knots build up less frequently from overuse, and the tension I hold is a natural, unstrained one—in body and spirit. Tension has become a locus of encounter, a place from which I can move with energy and power rather than in pain and striving.
Ecclesiastes 3 gives us a picture of the integrated life “under the sun”:
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
How do we know which time it is? Only by paying attention to the tension and what has built up around it can we hope to move in this dance of life with God. He wishes to free us from our rigid prisons of positions and postures, so that we might move with him in the life he has given us.