By Stuart Swartzentruber
I have memories of baling hay as a boy on our farm in Delaware. The hay was compacted into a chamber where strands of twine were knotted around the bale. The right amount of tension was needed to produce a bale that was firm, but not too heavy. Too little tension and the bales were soft and unstackable; too much tension and the bales were heavy and the twine in danger of snapping. I remember tightening or loosening the tension on the machine.
Words like “restriction,” “stress,” “tension,” and “constraint” bring up negative emotions in many of us these days. But can there be tensions that strengthen? Is there a stress that produces beauty?
How can we learn to grow stronger through tension-filled times? Can constraints and restrictions actually help us as individuals and churches to have a clearer focus? Limiting our options can sometimes get rid of unnecessary baggage.
A well-known example of constraint that produced powerful results is the alleged account of Ernest Hemingway, on a bet, writing a full story in six words: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
I rarely choose to tighten the tension in my life as it seems to happen without needing my help. God uses a certain amount of disruption in our lives to keep us dependent and growing toward Christ-likeness.
Our staff have felt the sting of restrictions and shutdowns in Ontario. The stress of being pulled out of our comfort zones has been real. In small churches where community and relationships are core values, the last year has felt disorienting. I have felt the sentiment and hear it from staff, “I don’t feel like I am pulling my weight”, or “I am not doing much but I feel so weary. Why?”
Emotional, mental, and spiritual fatigue is real, but Jesus is known for choosing “the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (1 Cor. 1:27 NIV) I am holding on to that promise!
James encourages us to “…be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near. Don’t grumble about each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. For look—the Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:7-9 NLT)
This advice is for us from the Bible: “Be patient” and “don’t grumble about each other.” These two statements feel like timely instructions for today and for the future.
In this staff issue of Hopelines, you will see individuals and families who, with the rest of the world, have walked through dark and difficult days this past year. I am so encouraged to see the faithfulness and the creativity they bring to their locations. Pray that all of us would use the constraints of this season to move forward into a new season of redefined vision and a newly discovered rest in God. May we join Him in His kingdom work.