Our natural tendency as humans is to have things packed up in a nice, neat little box. To know the right thing to say and the right thing to do, who or what is at fault, when to let an issue be and when to do something about it, when to push through and when to rest. To know when trouble is going to end, why something is happening to you, how to fix your personal unhealthy thought processes, how to get from where you are to where you want to be.
Life, quite simply, is not that simple.
Sometimes you do have a clear vision of your goal and how to get there. Sometimes you have a clear vision of your goal but no idea how to get there or something has frustrated your plan of how to get there. Sometimes you have no idea where you’re going but you’re just taking things one day at a time. Sometimes you know the right way to think, the right way to treat someone, the right thing to do, but it feels like you lack the strength to make that change.
Last year, I read Sue Monk Kidd’s When the Heart Waits, which was a deeply transformative book for me about the tensions and unanswered questions in life. She uses language like “incubating the tension” and “living the questions” instead of resolving the tension and answering the questions. The book was clarifying about why I struggled with the tension that I did/do.
The tensions in life are coming to my attention again through this sermon series “Christian” by Andy Stanley at North Point Church, reading various articles on the pervasiveness of racism and the subleties of white supremacy (including this one from a friend from college that resonates with me), being uncertain how to react to the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage and the transgender movement, spending time with my community group talking to the homeless on the outskirts of Skid Row and not knowing what to do about the deeply disturbing and painful aspects of Los Angeles, watching some friends struggle through disciplining and ministering to neighborhood children, and struggling with how to approach issues and dissatisfaction in progress in my relationship, friendships, ministry, and work.
Frankly, I know I would wreck myself with anxiety if I even tried to resolve all these issues. I’ve been taught all my life in church that anxiety doesn’t add anything to your life, and you should learn to give things up to God.
So maybe for the sake of my brain making everything manageable, I’ve narrowed this all down to one tension, brought to mind through “Christian”: grace vs. truth.
The scariest thing to me about parenting (thankfully, I have a few years before I’m at that point) is how to teach my child to do the right thing and live in truth, and yet be gracious and forgiving.
Depending on your personality, you probably lean toward one side of grace and truth. My natural tendency is grace: I’m a bit of a conflict avoider, and so I tend to let a lot of things slide because I figure it’s not my place to judge or say anything, and while I get along well with just about everyone, people are sometimes confused as to what I’m feeling and what I think needs to be done.
I know a few people who lean toward truth: they tend to get into a lot of conflict because they’re so confrontational. If they see something wrong, they’ll let you know. I find these people refreshing to be around, because even if they’re not in the right, you know exactly what they’re thinking about and what their expectations are. At the same time, sometimes I just want them to be a bit more flexible.
The Bible says that Jesus was “full of grace and truth.” Somehow, Jesus got this balance right. And as Stanley says, this made (and still makes) people extremely uncomfortable but drew people to Jesus. Jesus asked people to give up everything, but forgave and extended grace, then says “go and sin no more.”
The more time we spend with Jesus, the more we become like him, and therefore the better we get at balancing grace and truth. The better we get at loving like Jesus did. But this takes time. It takes effort and receiving love from God, it means taking risks and messing up a lot and returning to God. It means learning to extend ourselves grace and give ourselves some hard truth. It means doing the right thing even if it may cost us all that makes us comfortable. It means choosing to step into the difficulties and the reality of others in order to love them like Jesus did.
I don’t entirely know what this looks like in all the tensions I’ve seen in my life, but I know I can’t run away from these tensions by trying to resolve them. I know I’ll mess up, but I know God is bigger than my mess-ups and that even if I don’t get grace and truth right all the time, he’s still working.
So grace and truth is a tension I’m stepping into, because I know that in doing so I find the Jesus who embodied this tension.