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George Bowers Sr.: Our lives need expansion joints

The Rev. George Bowers Sr. travels the cat walk under the New River Gorge Bridge near Beckley, West Virginia. Courtesy photo

As I reflect back over 2017, I am thankful for so many blessings God has dumped in my lap yet again. He has given me more air than I can breathe, more food than I can eat, more friends than I am worthy of, more love than I can return, and more grace than I deserve. Yes, this past year has held some challenges and 2018 promises to be no different, but with God’s presence, I am confident his grace will see me through.

One of the blessings I enjoyed in 2017 was a visit to the New River Gorge Bridge near Beckley, West Virginia. This engineering marvel spans the New River and is 876 feet tall at the center, allowing the Statue of Liberty to stand on top of the Washington Monument with an extra 16 feet to spare! This colossal project is the eighth mega structure in the world and immediately reduced a 40 minute commute from one side of the gorge to the other to less than a minute when it was completed in 1977.

During my visit, I had the privilege to walk under the bridge on a catwalk that allows inspectors and repairmen to perform needed maintenance. This 2-3 hour walk from one side to the other comes complete with a guided tour and a safety cable to prevent catastrophe. It offers some fantastic views not only of the bridge itself, but of the gorge and river beneath. It is not, however, for those with a fear of heights.

Our guide that day (who was also a Hokie!) shared with us that the bridge’s 1 million bolts must be changed every 10 years to protect against weakening due to rust or corrosion. I’m thankful I don’t have that job but I pray that whoever does is privy to some really good air ratchets.

He also pointed out the expansion joints that were built into the steel structure to allow it to enlarge and contract with air temperatures as needed. These small gaps spaced throughout the structure are barely noticeable when traveling by car but are crucial to prevent buckling or breaking of the bridge.

The New River Gorge Bridge, completed in 1977, is 876 feet tall at its center. Courtesy photo

On hot summer days, the immense volume of steel in the structure expands greatly, resulting in several extra total feet of combined metal. Conversely, on cold winter nights, that same steel shrinks much smaller. Designers had to consider those factors when constructing this enormous giant to prevent these variations from damaging the bridge, or worse yet, bringing it down. Too much rigidity would doom it to collapse. Complex gears and cogs are employed to keep the pieces joined while still allowing them the freedom they need to move.

As I contemplated these carefully designed expansion joints, it occurred to me that we humans ought to build some of them into our lives. Days of Sabbath rest are needed to absorb the ever pressing demands of life. If we schedule every minute of our planners, no room is left to absorb inevitable changes. Downtime is essential to process life’s pressures and remain strong and resilient.

Likewise, we should build some expansion joints into our relationships. We need to give others some grace to move and to be the individuals God created them to be. Expectations that are too rigid and inflexible will inevitably lead to fractures and failure of the friendships. If we demand perfection, we are bound to frustration and disappointment. If, however, we extend the same leeway and grace we’d like them to show us, the chances for long-term relationship success improve dramatically.

This important interpersonal strategy is nothing new. Paul instructed us in Ephesians 4:32 to “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Just as we need the compassion and forgiveness of others, so we need to extend it to them.

As we contemplate our 2018 calendars, let’s be sure to build in some extra time to buffer the extremes of life, and, as we relate to others, let’s be sure to allow room for both them and us to do some shifting. Finally, if you have an extra day along the way, take the bridge walk! Happy New Year!

George

George Bowers Sr. is the Senior Pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren and has authored nine books that are available at Four Star Printing, Shenandoah Stuff, and Woodstock Cafe. He can be reached through www.georgebowersministries.com or at gabowers@shentel.net.

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