While I was preparing to take my comprehensive exams when I was in graduate school, someone gave me the gift of a massotherapy appointment. I had never had a massage before, but it seemed like a good idea after spending hours upon hours of reviewing notes and pouring over highlighted passages in books. I could feel every muscle in my neck, shoulders, and back tied in knots.
I must admit that I felt a bit intimidated at the outset as I entered the dimly lit room. Soft music was playing and the bubbling sound of the fish tank in the room added to the atmosphere. So far, I got the picture that relaxation was the goal, but I was not feeling it.
Over the hour I was on the table, however, the diminutive Japanese woman working on me seemed to be able to identify every taut muscle as well as each strand of that muscle. At the end of that hour, she had successfully relieved all the tension I had carried into the room.
I would love to say that she fixed the problem permanently and that tension never returned; but as I am sure you can guess, that was not the case.
Tension is unavoidable. It is born from multiple sources in each season of life. It happens to women as well as men, the young and the not so young.
“Tension is living in the gap between certainty and uncertainty.” Dan Allender
Reading Dan Allender’s statement gives me much to ponder because I live often in the gap despite certain assurances and absolutes that provide me with a foundation on which to stand. (So do you!) As a believer, I can have a certainty of God’s love and grace, His provision, care, and my eternal destination. But in the midst of that, much uncertainty remains in the details of daily life. I don’t live in Eden before the fall. Life is not a rose garden.
I plead guilty to trying to avoid tension as much as possible despite knowing its inevitability.
Is there value in tension? Does God have a purpose for creating or allowing it?
I wanted to reduce tension (stress) as I prepared for my comprehensive exam, but a certain amount of tension also was needed to push me to work at focusing and studying to demonstrate I had mastered the material being used to evaluate my learning. The right amount would cause me to function at just the right intensity and serve me well, but if it were too high I would be more likely to forget or jumble the material I had studied and do poorly.
That kind of tension is situation specific, but without my awareness surface tension is acting all around us, everywhere and all the time, affecting our daily life and bodily well being.
God has designed tension into His creation in a variety of ways.
For instance, surface tension keeps billions of cells in our body functional and ensures the proper organization and balance of biomolecules such as proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, and nucleic acid into membranes. When I discovered that information in reading about tension, I was in awe of the intricate design of our Creator. It gave me another glimpse of the purpose of tension if it is in the exact amount needed.
I love music and am blessed to recall the sounds of the piano echoing through the house as our son and daughter were growing up learning to play and becoming proficient doing so. I get reminders of that when I visit their homes now and often hear a grandchild practicing. Other stringed instruments have been added to our family beyond the piano and include violins, cello, guitar, and ukulele.
You and I can be similar to a violin. Exact tension is necessary with stringed instruments for them to stay in tune. Lack of tension in piano strings not only affect tune, but also can cause the soundboard to crack.
The exact tension on a violin not only keeps it playing well and in tune, but it also keeps the bridge in place and balanced.
A violin is also sensitive to many environmental factors including humidity and dry air. In addition to tension, friction is needed on the strings to produce a decent tone. Tension also might not be a friend to the violin. If the bow is left with tension on it, it will warp.
Our challenge whether we are playing a stringed instrument or not, studying or not, facing a crisis on not, is to remember that living in this life in the gap between birth and heaven will expose us to tension. Our daily life will include certainty and uncertainty.
God has designed us, hardwired us, to grow. All growth stretches us beyond our comfort level. Tension is a constant companion.
The trouble with tension is that it can be a friend when it works exactly as needed and a foe when it is absent or present in excess.
The good news is that God uses it not only for our growth, but to remind us of our reliance on Him. Growth comes when I learn to rest in Him in the midst of tension and focus on the assurance of the unseen.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Heb. 11:1 ESV