Contrary to what you may have heard, life isn't getting harder.
This is something I've been thinking about for a few weeks, since I started seminary. You see, I was looking through the various syllabi provided by my professors when I noticed that in seminary, an "A" is anything above a 95. This is strikingly different than undergraduate work, or at least my undergraduate work, and even though I had already committed myself to being more interested in learning during seminary than achieving, it hit me a little hard. This revised grading scale made achieving, or seeming to achieve, all the more unlikely.
Now, it's important to note that I have committed myself more to the learning. I've committed to engaging the material instead of engaging in the work, and I have come to a point within myself that it doesn't matter what the grade is (within reason), so long as the lesson is meaningful. I've spent too much of my life performing well and growing little, and I really want to walk away from seminary with more than a diploma.
So I dove into the work and discovered - you know what? It's not harder. Even with the grading scale, the work is not harder. The seminary has set me up for the very thing that I had set myself up for - to engage the material. That's what the school is asking of me. Not that I "do better," as an "A" so much requires a higher standard, but that I engage more.
The more I thought about it, the more I realize that's all life ever asks of us, too.
It seems like life gets harder the older we get. Like there's more to do, the standards keep getting raised, the amount of time it takes just to live well eats a bigger chunk out of our day-to-day. But that's not really it. The older you get, the more life is asking you to engage deeper with it. So it's not getting harder; it's becoming intimate.
The pressures of adult life are no different than a child's pressures; the meanings are different. A lot of us worry about money, particularly the money we don't have. You didn't have any money as a child, did you? Maybe your parents did (or maybe they didn't) but you certainly didn't. How could you? The $2 you got for doing your chores all week seemed like a fortune, but it didn't buy anything. And that's okay because it wasn't expected to. Now, you don't have money and it's a problem because life has asked you to up your engagement and to be an independent and contributing member of society. So now, you need money. And that $2 fortune you once had? You realize it's not enough. It's not any harder to make $2, but at an increased level of engagement, it takes more.
Social situations are tough as an adult. There's a lot to remember about etiquette and rules that didn't apply when you were a kid. Silly things like having to keep your shoes tied or bigger things like how to set a formal dinner party, how to operate in the workplace, how to raise a family. Again, these were in some limited way the same social structures you had to navigate as a child - being polite, being productive at school, making friends, forming relationships - only now, you're being asked to engage at a deeper level.
Life is not asking harder things of you; it's asking more from you every day in the things you already do. It's what keeps you growing. It's what keeps you engaged.
And that's what tension is. It's failing to meet life at the same level it's inviting you. It's failing to engage with the depth necessary to meet the demands of a deepening existence. If life keeps pushing you deeper but you haven't kept clear air above you, it feels like you're suffocating. If you meet the challenge and keep making space in and around your life, it's a beautiful growth and development process.
Which doesn't mean life isn't hard. It is. Some days, it's harder than others. But that's not because it's getting harder.
It's because it's asking more.