Tuesday, December 3, 2013

On Tension

The more fragile a thing, the easier it is to break it. Right? 

That depends. How much tension is said thing experiencing?

I do a fair amount of woodworking, and when I want to hide as much hardware as possible, I skip the metal and turn to wood. Dowel pins, to be precise, although I frequently make my own out of twigs. It's strange - these little tiny things that you can so easily break with your bare hands are strong enough to hold even the biggest project together. In fact, my entire headboard (rather elaborate - you can see the design on my Art page) is held together exclusively by dowel pins and glue. That's it. And for the past 7 years, I have bumped, banged, leaned against, slammed into, and generally abused this thing and it is as perfectly intact as when I first attached it to my frame.

It still amazes me. But there are two forces at work here: size and tension.

Size matters because the smaller a thing is, the harder it is to get a good grip on it. Start with a 2-foot twig. Break it in two. Break it in two again. Eventually, it gets so short that you can't quite get your hands to hold it well enough to break it again. Now, it's small enough to be a pin. 

Then you take that pin and put it between two larger pieces of wood as an attachment device, and you can't even break it there. The tension creating by holding the two pieces keeps it together. I don't know how it works.

Except I know it works, and the same is true of us. Size and tension matter.

We all face trials, big troubles. We face things that are sure to break us, or so we think. We feel fragile, like this world could just pick us up and break us. Or maybe we'll break all on our own. It's a tough spot to be. And for most of us, we try to fix this problem by growing larger. If we're big enough, strong enough, confident enough, then we will be unbreakable. But just the opposite is true.

We must make ourselves smaller. We must realize our human nature, our fallen selves. We must realize the limitations of our creation, that we simply cannot always prevail. We can't always win. We can't always stand. We can't even always stay whole. As we embrace that we're not the bigger thing, we find that we are the smaller thing - smaller than God's glory, smaller than His grace; smaller than the evils that try to overtake us, smaller than the temptations, even those that are common to man. In every battle we fight, we are the smaller thing.

And that's good! The smaller we are, the harder it is for this world to get a grip on us. When we realize we are powerless, we find a place in something. Hopefully, that something is Someone. Hopefully, it's God. And we find this place He's carved out for us, this small place, and we slide right in. Then there's just no way to get a hold on us. Nothing can break us.

And firmly in this place, in this small, special place, whatever tries to break us - whatever grabs our exposed side - only creates tension. It puts us between two bigger things and somehow, rather than breaking us, this makes us stronger. It makes us strong enough to hold together. It makes us strong enough to be immovable. It makes us strong enough to stand. No matter how bumped, banged, leaned against, slammed into, and generally abused we are. We'll hold. Because we're a small thing in a special place - a place of tension.

This probably only makes sense if you know anything about woodworking or the general process I'm talking about. You can try it for yourself if you want. But this thought has been playing in my mind again and again for the past several weeks. I can't get my little thing out of my head. Nor can I fathom how the tension makes me stronger. It just amazes me. Every day.

Especially when it doesn't feel like strength at all.

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