On tenterhooks

You see a listing for a job opening. (Perhaps your best friend asks if you’ve seen it, and you hadn’t.) You read the description of the job, and it sounds like something you would enjoy doing and something you would do well. The application process is entirely online, so you answer the questions, attach a resume, and then you wait. The next day an automatic email acknowledges your application, but then you wait some more.

A month passes. Nothing has come from the company since the automatic email. You decide that the system has skipped you. Something in your application must not have matched one of the company’s high priorities for the position. You give up hope and turn your full attention back to your present life.

Then an email arrives. They want to interview you over a distance and select a day and a time they hope will be convenient. You reply quickly that the day and time they suggested is indeed convenient, and you arrange to take that afternoon off from work. You prepare yourself as well as you can, including a list of questions to ask when they invite questions from you.

The day comes. The interview seems to go well. They ask for additional information, and you send it the same day, along with a thank-you note for the interview. Then you wait some more.

A week passes. A second week is over. You are beginning to believe that some other applicant has been more appealing to the company. You know that they wanted to fill the position by the end of the month, and your sense of hope for the job dwindles.

This anticipation, hoping for a good thing but unsure if it will happen, is called being on tenterhooks. When cloth is made from wool or cotton or other natural fibers, it is stretched on a tent-like frame, called a tenter, to dry. Tenterhooks hold the cloth to the tenter so the cloth does not shrink. When you feel pulled in various directions by the tension of a possible change, you are much like the cloth held in place by tenterhooks.

During this time, you are living two lives. You are trying to stay in the present, take care of your house, and do your job. Yet you also are thinking about the new job, wondering about when you can move and what your next house will be like, and even deciding how you will announce to your coworkers that you are living. You are in the painful position of having one foot on each side of the fence. Until you know for sure about the job, it’s hard to keep from thinking about it, wondering about it, and even planning for it.

In a sense, Christians live like that every day. We know Jesus is coming in glory on a future Day to change the world, to make it perfect. We do not know when that Day will be. It could be tomorrow, or even later today. It might not come for a hundred years, or even a thousand years. Jesus said it would be soon, but soon to the eternal and unchanging God is not like your soon.

While we wait for that Day and plan for that Day, we have our lives to live in this sin-stained world. We have work to do: loving God, loving our neighbors, helping those who need help, forgiving those who sin against us. We share the good news of the Kingdom, even as we wait and wonder when the Kingdom will be fully revealed. We are on tenterhooks, stretched tight, anticipating a change for the better but not knowing when it will happen.

The difference is that we know it will happen. We have full confidence that Jesus keeps all his promises. He has promised to reveal his glory, raise the dead, announce his judgment, and welcome into his Kingdom all his people. We know that we are his people, because he has lived perfect righteousness to make us his people. He has sacrificed his life to take us out of the power of the enemy. He has risen to defeat all enemies. He has told us about his righteousness, his sacrifice, and his victory; and through his telling, he has given us faith in him.

We live each day as if it might be the Last Day. We keep ourselves busy doing the things we want to be caught doing when Jesus appears in the sky. At the same time, we plan for the future. We plant trees. We take care of the world and of ourselves and our neighbors, knowing that the Day might not come for a long time yet.

We have a foot on each side of the fence. We do the best we can in this world, but already we are citizens of God’s Kingdom. That citizenship empowers us to live like God’s people today. We may be on tenterhooks, but we know the future, and it is good. J.