Sometimes I feel gypped. Cheated. Lied to. Tricked.
My life hasn't always been like I anticipated. I didn't experience the bliss of motherhood that the baby shampoo commercials promised. My dream job wasn't such a dream after all. The house that was supposed to be better than the last, turned out to be just as imperfect and broken. And no matter how many how-to books I've read, I still struggle in relationships, in my role as a wife and mother, and in making my dreams come true.
The truth is, life is filled with failed expectations. We pursue after dreams only to find that they weren't what we thought they'd be. Relationships let us down. Our bodies let us down. We let ourselves down. That's because life is not as it should be. We live in a broken and fallen world where life is disappointing. It often doesn't "work" or go as planned. We sin and are sinned against.
When life is disappointing, I wonder--how I should handle it? Do I make lemonade from my challenges and view life from Pollyanna rimmed glasses, denying the realities of life? Or do I fully taste the sourness of this fallen world and just accept it like it is? Do I demand life work my way? Or do I lock myself in my house, fearful of the next disappointment and failure?
Or is there perhaps another way to view life altogether?
A Holy Tension
Have you ever watched a tight rope walker? We were in the mountains of California this summer where we came across a group of brave hikers. They use a slack line to walk across a deep crevasse where one false move and the hiker would fall thousands of feet to the ground below. Just the thought of it makes me nauseous.
But in many ways, our lives as Christians are like tight rope walkers.
Like a tight rope walker, we live out a holy tension. We are called to live in the world but not of the world. Because of Christ's sacrifice on the cross for our sins, we are dead to the power of sin, yet not completely free from its presence. We are called to both be dependent upon Christ (John 15:5) and to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12).
In fact, as long as we live on this earth and until Christ returns, we live in what theologians call 'the already-not yet." We are in an in-between time, where life is not one-dimensional. It's not as simple as making lemonade from the bitter experiences of life. Rather, life is an intertwined experience of joy and pain, tears and laughter, beauty and bitterness. We can't accept things as they are but we can't despair as though we have no hope. We cry in sorrow over the horrors that sin has brought, yet we have joy, knowing Christ came to make all things new.
This is the reality of the Christian life. A co-mingling of seemingly disparate conditions. A holy tension of life lived in between the already and the not yet. In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul describes this holy tension: "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed" (8-9).
I read this passage and wonder, how can that be? Because when I feel despair, that's all I feel. It overshadows everything else. When I am afraid, fear takes the driver's seat in all my decisions. And to be honest, joy seems all too far away to be co-mingled with anything else.
So how do we live out this holy tension? How do we live in this already-not yet time in history?
Through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Walking the Holy Tension
My study Bible puts it like this "The Christian life is paradoxical because it is built upon the ultimate paradox, the death of Christ, where perfect divinity and beauty was horribly killed. Through that tragedy, life for sinners blossomed...When we taste life in the light of the gospel, we begin to understand Paul's paradoxical logic" (from the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible (Black) commentary on 2 Corinthians 4).
It is through Christ's life, death and resurrection that this holy tension makes sense and is made possible. This is why we are comforted in the midst of affliction--because he was afflicted for us. Though we may be persecuted or rejected by others, we can stand confident knowing we are accepted by God because Christ was rejected in our place. We can have joy in the midst of our sorrow because we know that the Man of Sorrow's bore all our burdens at the cross. We can face the disappointments of life with hope because we know that one day sin, sorrow, and disappointment will be no more. We can repent over our sin and not feel the weight of our guilt knowing that God will never leave us because Christ became sin for us.
Yes, life is disappointing. We can't deny it or pretend otherwise. Because of the fall, we will continue to experience disappointments, sorrows, and failed expectations. Yet we do not live like those who have no hope. We continue on in this seemingly paradoxical life, walking a holy tension, through the gospel of Christ. By keeping our eyes focused on eternity to come, we can live in the in-between and remain "afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair."
"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
*photo by Michael Pollack under Creative Commons