Living in the Tension of the “Now” and the “Not Yet”

3.14.12.    Living in the Tension of the “Now” and “Not Yet”

Welcome to the fallout
Welcome to resistance
The tension is here
Tension is here
Between who you are and who you could be
Between how it is and how it should be… 

It was the next time in as many times that I was going on and on to someone passionately about another example of social injustice, pulse increasing, inflection rising, my hands probably moving about frantically in some direction (that I was of course unaware of).

It didn’t go so well.

I think I might have just been making noise because I talk about these things so frequently. The person I was talking to called me out on it, pointing out to me that essentially, my life had become unbalanced and I wasn’t embracing the abundant life Christ talks about. He didn’t have to convince me. I knew it.

The past five years have challenged, refined, and shaped me, for better and for worse, as I learned about, cared about, and took action about global suffering, human trafficking, social inequalities, racial polarization, poverty, the realities of war and America’s contributions of bombings in more countries than I’ve ever realized, people being mistreated for their sexuality, etc.

I met people living with HIV who shared painful stories, like how their one and only life partner never told them of their status, or stories of not being able to leave the house because their current medication regimen causes awful side effects. I listened to the stories of people who are gay. I moved to the inner city, where I can no longer deny white privilege and racial polarization. I worked with patients who told me the realities about SSI, Section 8, and food stamps from personal experiences. I went to developing countries and saw inhumane poverty. I read books about refugees, microfinance, and women’s health. I watched documentaries that horrified me. I raised my voice. I sent emails to my senators supporting everything from anti-trafficking legislation to commitments for global HIV funding. I tried my best to live out Jesus’ prayer for God will to be done on Earth as in Heaven.

My life felt full, active, alive, and like I was living out the priorities of the Kingdom.

…And then things got ugly.

In the past year and a half or so, I became angry. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that if each person truly knew the realities of what was going on in this world, like many are choosing to do as they’ve watched Kony 2012, they too would experience what Lynne Hybels refers to as “righteous anger.” But unbalanced, this turned into cynicism. I became critical of people who don’t volunteer. Who claim to know Jesus, but don’t know the poor. Who prioritize “saving souls” to “get” people into Heaven after death, but who cared little about the hells on Earth- where poverty, disease, violence, and trafficking are rampant.

I grew resentful of Christian circles that told females that being a good Christian woman meant respecting your husband, having lots of babies, being nice, and constantly telling girls that they are beautiful, as if every Christian girl struggles with that the most. Believe it or not, some actually don’t. 

I traded in “Captivating” (woof) for “Half the Sky” and “The Irresistible Revolution.”

I traded in Bethany Dillon’s, “Beautiful” for U2’s, “Get on Your Boots.”

I spent less time pursuing deep relationships and more time trying to serve and learn and do, do, do.

I had less and less patience for those who claimed to be Christians but didn’t care to learn about, talk about, or do something about the suffering going on around us.

I muttered things privately and publically about the Michelle Bachmans and Rick Santorums who claimed to know so much about homosexuality and how deplorable it was, but never bothered to listen to the story or struggles of someone who is gay. There are people, with faces, feelings, and dreams, behind nouns such as “homosexuality.” We do great harm when we forget that.

I laughed less.

In summary, my life had become quite uncomfortable and being totally honest, I wanted other peoples’ lives too as well.

It hasn’t felt good. Learning about the harsh realities of life on this planet in which excess wealth and destitute poverty clash; where one kid gets raised with two loving parents, while the other grows up precariously in the projects, wondering who or where his dad is and when mom will stop getting high. One kid drops out of school, while a girl in rural Africa is denied education. None of this is supposed to feel good.

But it’s not supposed to lead to burnout, cynicism, bitterness, divisiveness, nor criticism.

But slowly, ever so slowly, that’s all changing. Luckily I’m learning from a few great friends and family members (who may not even know that they are teaching me this lesson) to stop taking life so seriously. Sure there’s a time to be serious. There’s a time for action. But there’s also a time for rest (Matthew 11:28), Sabbath (Psalm 23:2), and yes, even laughter (Eccl. 3:4).

When you mix enjoyment of God and standing up to action, I believe you rise up in the dare to move.

I’m trying to get there. But if I’m honest, sometimes, often times, I feel stuck in the tension. The tension of how the world is and how it should be. The tension of where I am and where I want to be. The tension of the now, and the not yet. And accepting that that’s how it’s going to be, because I’m only on this side of Heaven. But one day, I won’t be. And I’ll want to look back seeing where I merged my life to create Heaven on Earth as much as possible, filling my days with grace, love, action, serving, hope, and endless, unstoppable, contagious joy.

I find myself waking up to where I’m getting it wrong. Desperately wrong. In clamant need of forgiveness. And asking for it, pleading for it.

All of these human experiences, when put in balance, aren’t meant to lead to exhaustion. They’re supposed to lead to grace and mercy.

So I’m making this my desperate prayer, to be “reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy in the next,” as Reinhold Niebuhr put it so eloquently in the serenity prayer. Today, I’ll say thank you to those who have been patient with me and return the favor to the next soul who needs me to be patient with them. I’ll learn to appreciate the passions, giftings, and talents of others. Not only will I be thankful, I will learn to celebrate such diversity alongside that person.

Today, I will pray for grace. That I would humbly receive it, and, even ask for it at times that I’ve been over-zealous and flat out wrong. I will say thank you to those who’ve so readily supplied it and ask God for more so that I can readily distribute it.

To the cynic.
To offer it lavishly and freely for the doubter.
To offer grace to the do-er, do-more-er, and for the courage to stop “doing” and start “being.”
Grace for the inquisitive, who have more questions than answers.
Grace for the on-the-fence.
Grace for the scared-to-start.
Grace for the I-don’t-want-to-start.
Grace for the rich. Grace for the poor.
Grace for the fearful. And the fearless.

And grace for all of humanity just trying to live life as best we can in the tension of life on this side of Heaven, on this stumbling, spinning, persistent halfway home called Earth.

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