April 22, 2012
Creative Tension vs. Emotional Tension
“. . . till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
In regard to our spiritual growth, there is a gap between where we are and where we want to be. As we reach for the “stature of the fullness of Christ,” we’re conscious that the discrepancy between our present condition and the goal that we seek is not acceptable.
Yet how we choose to think about this discrepancy is one of the main factors that determine our spiritual lives. Depending on whether we think of the difference as a problem to be worried about or as an opportunity to be embraced, there will be a corresponding impact on our spiritual growth.
Peter Senge, in his book The Fifth Discipline, makes the important distinction between “creative tension” and “emotional tension.” When we have an idea in our minds about what we would like our reality to be but we recognize that our current reality is far below this ideal, the result is “tension.” But tension is not always bad. The anxiety‑filled “emotional tension” that we often feel is not the only response that a human being can make when he or she realizes that there is work to be done. We can respond instead with decisiveness, energy, and enthusiasm. This kind of tension is a positive stimulus that urges us in the direction of good work, and this is what Senge calls “creative tension.”
When it comes to spiritual growth, we tend to swing between the extremes of worry and complacency. Either we obsess about our shortcomings in an unhealthy, self‑pitying manner or we just forget about the whole thing and accept ourselves as we are. It seems as if we’re determined to be either neurotic or lethargic! But there is a third way, and that is the way of growth, the way of improvement.
Yes, we need to feel our hurts deeply. “In this [body] we groan” (2 Corinthians 5:2). But no, we should not worry about our imperfections in a destructive way. Making progress toward perfection is what the spiritual life is about. If we’re growing, we’re reaching forward and narrowing the gap.
“The gap between vision and current reality is also a source of energy. If there was no gap, there would be no need for any action to move toward the vision. Indeed, the gap is the source of creative energy. We call this gap creative tension” (Peter M. Senge).