In Jack and Judith Balswick’s book, “The Family: A Christian Perspective for the Contemporary Home”, they deal with the issue of stress in the family and the ways we attempt to deal with it. The content is interesting as they talk about how we allocate resources to eliminate problems where we can and to merely cope with those things that we cannot change. But near the end of the chapter they deal specifically with the Christian response to problems and stresses, and even pain, in the home. Too often Christians hold the errant belief that a life lived in Christ is supposed to be a utopian, frictionless, and Edenic existence. This just isn’t true. Anyone who’s been married for more than two weeks can testify to this…and it really only takes waking up a couple of times on that first night at home with that adorable little insomniac to break the romanticized notions of parenthood.
In defense of this philosophy of escapism, we have good reason to want and desire this kind of “perfect” life. We hear the promises of God, we see the goodness and love that He offers, we believe in the place that He is preparing for us and we easily are lulled into a false sense of “right here, right now” instead of “then and there”. Even that notion has some foundation as we see Jesus’ message of the kingdom was that it was “at hand’, and then after His resurrection it is arguably true that the kingdom of Heaven, in some measure, is here right now. But this is balanced out by adorable little promises like, “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16).
In this we are faced, profoundly, with the reality that we are indeed the source of the problem. We make the mistakes and missteps that keep this spinning rock in turmoil. Our sin creates trouble, and then we complain about trouble. Ironic, but painfully so. Blame is an awful thing, but it’s a large part of how we deal with these stresses. It’s always someone else’s fault. But these tirades of fault-finding out almost always begin with our poor responses to the prickly parts of life. We want to fall heavily on one side or the other of a situation because that is the more comfortable place. But blame doesn’t fix anything. Taking ownership of a thing does. This conversation about the magic mirror gate in The NeverEnding Story offers some insight:
Engywook: Next is the Magic Mirror Gate. Atreyu has to face his true self.
Falcor: So what? That won’t be too hard for him.
Engywook: Oh, that’s what everyone thinks! But kind people find out that they are cruel. Brave men discover that they are really cowards! Confronted by their true selves, most men run away screaming!
So how do we, as the redeemed of God, approach problems both personally and corporately (either in our family units or the family of God or the gender-less brotherhood of mankind)? We tend to flop into one of two attitudes, either “passive reliance” or “active assertiveness”. Basically we either give up because problems are inevitable, or we exhaust ourselves because we believe we can attain the zen-like state of perfect peace and tranquility. Incredibly, both of these are correct responses, but only when they are held simultaneously.
We are encouraged and instructed in the Scriptures to both do everything we can to eliminate and alleviate problems, and to understand that in the midst of circumstances we can take comfort and hope in the fact that God is always in sovereign control over even the most chaotic of messes. This duality, almost certainly, appeals to us on one side or the others. Some of us are hyper-assertive and some are border-line nihilistic. Some are full backs, charging the enemy’s lines for the sake of God and good, and some are punters, happy to give the ball up and trust Someone else to take care of things. But, we will only find our proper place when we firmly stand in between the two approaches and do all that we can as we trust completely. Different situations call for different approaches, and if you don’t believe that try using the same technique to bathe a dog AND a cat. The truth becomes evident quite quickly.
We see this multifaceted response to stress, strain, and crisis in Jesus himself:
The same combination of passive reliance and active assertiveness can be seen in the life of Jesus. Faced with eminent arrest, trial, and crucifixion, Jesus retreated to the Garden of Gethsemane. Distressed and agitated, he told his disciples that his soul was “deeply grieved, even to the point of death” (Mark 14:34). In his despair Jesus prayed to his Father, “Remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want” (v 36).
It is important to recall that this very same Jesus had previously gone into the temple and assertively driven out the money changers. Enraged at the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, he called them whitewashed tombs, snakes, and a brood of vipers. His language was equally severe when he called Herod a fox, unreceptive audiences swine, and false prophets savage wolves. Nor did he restrain himself from taking direct action against the social evils of his day.
Christians need an able response to crisis. An unavoidable part of living in a fallen world, stress should be approached as a time to draw especially near to God and others for support. Although God has not promised an escape from stressful situations, he has promised to be our “refuge in the time of trouble” (Ps. 37:39).
– Jack and Judith Balswick, “The Family”
Friends, may we pray diligently for discernment to know when we rush in and when we retreat. Only the Spirit in us can accurately guide us here, and only the God of all Creation can ensure our success and sustenance through either approach toward crises.