Jen Hatmaker: We Have to Learn How to Hold Tension With Kindness

I think it’s the combination, really. Take a generation of deconstructionists with a touch of entitlement (and a few cynical axes to grind) and drop them in an online environment where every opinion has equal billing, and you get a culture of chronic criticism. No longer hindered by geographical separation that ensured previous generations mostly minded their own business, we now have access to everyone. And we have opinions about their lives. Airing them costs us nothing.

I feel the tremors in my own heart. I’ve developed a posture of narrowing my eyes at people, looking for holes to poke, searching out the underbelly of any given position, interpretation, group identification, personal narrative. Certainly, diversity of opinion has always existed, but we never had such access to the array. And, as it has always done, our humanity convinces us that different equals wrong and signals our defense mechanisms to kick in.

So we are prepared to burn whatever “offends” us to the ground.

I crave a spiritual community that can hold tensions with more kindness, more stamina. When you pull one way and I pull another, yes, the line is taut; it would certainly be easier to drop the line altogether. I could better coexist with people of constant like-mindedness, where there is virtually no tension to hold at all. Holding tension stretches me spiritually and emotionally, which involves discomfort, effort and energy. This requires relational work, and I’m already too busy.

But the cost of dropping the line outweighs the cost of hanging on. What beauty for a watching world to see a Christian community committed to holding tension. Be it theology, denominations, spiritual practices or just personal preferences, any tribe that cherishes unity in essentials (of which there are so few) and grace in nonessentials (of which there are so many) is truly rare. Plus, the stretching is good for us; it enlarges our perspectives and strengthens the family. It relieves us from being right and prioritizes being present.

I think often of Charles Spurgeon’s words on John Wesley, his theological antithesis:

I can only say concerning him that, while I detest many of the doctrines which he preached, yet for the man himself I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan; and if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitefield and John Wesley. The character of John Wesley stands beyond all imputation for self-sacrifice, zeal, holiness and communion with God; he lived far above the ordinary level of common Christians, and was one “of whom the world was not worthy.”

We can disagree and yet honor one another. We can make opposite choices and yet hold on as brothers and sisters. We can experience tension and remain in community.

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It is possible through humility and deference, choosing to build up rather than tear down, clinging to the upside-down Kingdom in which our mouths are full of blessings and the meek will inherit the earth.

It won’t grant us clicks or headlines, perhaps. It won’t be the sensationalized story of the day, but it is the way of Christ. In a world that can no longer hold any tension at all, may we demonstrate a gracious unity that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.

Let’s hold the line.

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