The reality of life lived in tension

The past few days, Brian and I have had an ongoing discussion involving how we view our three years here. On the one hand, we want to settle down, plant roots, and…live. On the other hand, we are transitional figures and we know it. We don’t have money, so every little thing becomes a decision of, “could we live without this for three years?”

It’s not an easy clear-cut decision. On the one hand, I want my kids to feel like this is home. I want to put things on the walls, make it an inviting home, and invite others in to share our home. My oldest will be eight when Brian’s PhD is completed. That’s a big chunk of his childhood already lived. Do I want him to feel like this whole time was spent just “making do” with as little as possible because we are living in transition?

On the other hand, we want to acknowledge that this is a time of life when we won’t have all our normal things, all the pleasures of a settled, deeply rooted family.

On the one hand, everything is a splurge. On the other hand, some splurges are important, even necessary.

And so it goes.

Tension. Which way do we tip the balance?

I’m coming to realize that it isn’t a one-time decision. Wouldn’t that be so much easier, though?

It’s more of a see-saw. One day we say yes to this purchase because it will help the family feel more settled. The next day we say no to something that we would normally have because we are living in transition.

I think we see this same tension in nearly every aspect of our lives.

We need to give in friendships. We need to be on the receiving end too.

We need to serve. We need to rest.

We long for and need deep fellowship and community. We long for and need quiet.

Like children playing on a see-saw in the playground, we flip from one end of the tension to the other. Never fully balancing it, because perfect balance is impossible.

In parenting, we have this tension of encouraging our children to overcome fears and hurdles, while at the same time being a safe haven for those same fears. We have the tension of justice and grace.

Just this week as we stepped out into more of a “social” life than we have in months, I saw this at play. I was thrilled to see Olivia interacting and socializing more with people than she has in months. But then the next day was met with tears that lasted nearly all day, and finally falling to sleep for the night at 5 pm. It was good for her, but just a little too much. Tension.

We need to acknowledge that this tension is at work in nearly every part of our life. When Olivia first got sick, there was a need for meals for another family in our church. For a brief moment I actually considered taking them a meal before realizing that that was completely absurd seeing as I was being brought meals at the time. Wanting to serve, but in the position of being served. Tension.

Acknowledging to myself that I had this internal tension actually helped me make better decisions.

Of course, we all have a bent a particular way. But even with our particular personality bent, we still fight the tension in one way or another.

We need to avoid labeling others and thereby minimizing their own tension. “She’s a ‘Martha.'” “She’s brought dozens of cookies to the Christmas event for the past 5 years, of course we can count on her to bring it this year as well.” “She loves to be busy, she won’t mind adding this to her schedule.” “She’s so quiet, she would never want to do that.”

These tensions come just from being human. We will never find the perfect balance of busyness and rest. Of socializing and quiet. Of jumping in and holding back. Of serving and letting others serve us.

While much of it is just because we are human, these tensions can be increased by outside influences.  Illness, tragedy, depression, relational conflict, emotional or spiritual struggles, life stage, work schedule, parenting stage, financial difficulties, etc.

Our life will always be full of tension. There will never be a time when we aren’t evaluating and re-evaluating how we are doing in the midst of these tensions.

Like a see-saw in a forgotten, snow-covered playground, we are sometimes on one side for so long that someone else needs to come and push the other side down a bit to get us out of our rut.

Many times we’ll be like the crowded playground, bouncing up and down from one side to the other. One week over-scheduling ourselves, the next doing nothing, ever trying to find that “perfect” balance.

And still other times we will be like those children that keep their feet on the ground thereby being close to balanced…until something makes us let go and up we fly.

While I usually find myself completely frustrated with my internal struggles with these tensions of life, I’ve also come to be grateful for them. They cause me to evaluate more often than I otherwise would. Sometimes I need to pull myself up and do, and other times I need to acknowledge that this is just not my season for that.

It’s in the meeting of these tensions that life is lived. Sometimes pushing ourselves, other times holding back. Sometimes saying ‘yes’, other times ‘no.’ Sometimes doing, sometimes resting.

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  1. Sarah Westphal says:

    Yes. This is the closest post I have read to what I experience. The see-saw. Doing so much that you are left breathless, the next hardly moving enough to cause a breath. It is madness, yet wonderful. Almost always wondering if you are making the right choice..until the very end–when thankfully–you find out that you had. There just aren’t enough hours in the day, yet it is all we have.
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Pinning this post. Love your thoughts on dealing with tension and finding balance.

    For what it’s worth, we almost exclusively scrimped during our three years in Scotland. While in many ways it was a good thing, I do wish we had done more to enjoy living there. And I cherish the memories of the times we did splurge a little.

  3. Johanna,

    I totally understand what you are saying here, but one thing I take exception to is this (smile)
    On the other hand, we want to acknowledge that this is a time of life when we won’t have all our normal things, all the pleasures of a settled, deeply rooted family.

    I believe you can be a “deeply rooted family” without “normal” things (smile).

    Our rootedness does not need to come from pictures on the walls, choosing the paint colors, etc..

    I think you know this. I’m just wanting to encourage you that it’s not one or the other, “normal, rooted life” on one hand vs. “transitional family life” on the other. Learning to be rooted in each other and Christ, most importantly, during times of transition and upheaval is a real gift you are able to give your children as you live adventurously.

    I love following your journey Johanna. I’m excited to see where it’s all going to go…

    xo, Renee

    • You are so right, Renee. I’m learning…little by little! Thanks for the encouragement. Sometimes I feel completely settled and other times…well, you know. :-)

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