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4 Ways to Manage Life’s Creative Tensions

Much has transpired in the past few weeks.

School children returned to the classroom, the 12 Days of Christmas culminated in the Feast of Epiphany, and the reckoning with credit card bills from December’s shopping sprees has begun.

College football fans, especially in the South, made plans to watch Monday night’s clash between Clemson and Alabama. For now, at least, the parking lots of fitness clubs are filled with cars, and fewer folks are heading to all-you-can-eat buffets. We’ve nearly adjusted to writing 2016 rather than 2015.

In the meantime – and it truly seems to be a mean time – the already-crazy presidential campaign is becoming even more of a spectacle, with escalating and coarsening rhetoric.

The refugee crisis in the Middle East is worsening, with people falling victim to starvation and other forms of deprivation.

China’s stock market has continued its roller-coaster ride and made other markets, including Wall Street, dizzy.

Our nation’s elected leaders continue to be irrationally unable to enact what many believe are common-sense gun safety regulations, which some polls show a majority of Americans support.

It’s difficult to discern how to live with an effective commitment to justice and peace, and, at the same time, to pay the right kind of attention to one’s own needs.

How does one passionately and pragmatically engage the challenges and problems of our time and also exercise grateful and wise stewardship of one’s own gifts and opportunities? What, in other words, does it practically mean for love to flow to everyone, including ourselves?

In what ways do we hold, in the same life, an authentic care for our neighbors near and far, and also tend to carbohydrate counts and fat grams, enjoy college basketball and the latest Star Wars film, and post cat videos and blog posts on Facebook?

It’s not entirely clear to me how to deal with such questions. They’re the kinds of questions that the poet Rainer Maria Rilke famously said, we “live” rather than “answer.”

“The point is to live everything,” he asserted. “Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

Here are a few things to keep in mind and heart as we live these kinds of questions:

  • It’s necessary to have a healthy rhythm (the specifics of which differ from person to person) between engagement and disengagement, community and solitude, activism and reflection, work and Sabbath.
  • Burnout, compassion fatigue or whatever the current term might be is a real threat to the soul. Failure to tend to one’s health, relationships and joy leads, over time, to crippling cynicism, jaundiced thinking and numbed awareness.
  • It’s crucial to be sure that we are investing ourselves beyond the circle of our personal and immediate concerns and needs and not to allow the inability to do everything to be an excuse for doing very little.
  • It’s not possible to engage every important issue with the same amount of time, energy, attention and money. There are issues that compellingly call out to us (and, again, different issues will call more urgently to some of us than to others of us), and those are the issues that will have a greater claim on us.

We live inescapably in the tension between two statements: “Those who seek to save their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives for the sake of the good news will save them” (Matthew 16:25) and “Come to me all you who labor and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

The invitation is to make the tension creative, the kind of tension that, over time, remakes and renews us.

Guy Sayles is a consultant with the Center for Healthy Churches, an assistant professor of religion at Mars Hill University, an adjunct professor at Gardner-Webb Divinity School and a board member of the Baptist Center for Ethics. A version of this article first appeared on his website, From the Intersection, and is used with permission.