When we first started dating, my now-husband and I were forced to navigate some areas of life that were unfolding differently than I had expected. I struggled — I had a vision for how and where my life would unfold, and this relationship was throwing me for some loops. Even though I loved him, I was having trouble seeing how the pieces could fit together.
It was during this time I discovered a truth that would serve me well and shape my day-to-day life. It is simply this: there is always room to hold both the pain and the beauty. Holding both of these things together has gotten me through some tough times.
When I pay close attention to my responses and emotions, I find that as soon as pain approaches or sacrifice is expected of me, I stiffen. I feel my heart (and even sometimes my body) become rigid, unwilling to bend.
I came to realize this as a defense mechanism I’ve developed. In some ways, it’s healthy. We all seek safety and security, and when that is threatened, it’s absolutely terrifying!
I heard a priest discuss this idea of how we naturally want to flee from these places of anxiety. His guidance was that instead of running away from this pain, we should “go to the tension.” That is to say, we should wade directly into that area of fear or stress because this is precisely where transformation happens. If we avoid that work, we’ll miss an opportunity to grow.
So I began to try out this approach of having room for both pain and beauty. I started journaling about words, emotions, and thoughts that weighed me down. I began to have honest, vulnerable conversations with my husband and a few trusted friends.
Leaning into the pain, for me, meant accepting that something was hard and confusing and that I did not feel equipped for the task — it meant admitting my weakness and allowing an experience to be heavy. It can be daunting to open up a painful situation when you can’t see how it will be resolved, but I found the more I practiced accepting this uncertainty, the more
freedom I felt. Allowing myself to recognize and accept the difficulty allowed me to process it — and more importantly, to bring it to God in prayer.
My experience has taught me that the second part of this truth is equally as vital as the first. We need to balance embracing the challenges that we face by also seeking out beauty to sustain us. If engaging pain entails work for our spirits, we need to restore them by intentionally seeking out beauty that moves us.
In the midst of making difficult choices and being in a season of pretty intense change and discernment, I found that leaning into beauty transformed my daily life and allowed me to think more clearly. By consciously opening myself up to beauty every day, I was reminded of the gifts that I am given and how I am so surrounded by good things.
Practical ways I did this: keeping fresh cut flowers in my home, and stopping to chat with someone I loved. I would spend time curating playlists for different moods, expressing myself in a new recipe, taking long walks without headphones, and letting myself laugh. These things were so simple, but made such a profound difference.
There are endless places beauty rests, because God is found everywhere. But I discovered that unless I was extremely intentional, I could easily go a whole day without relishing in some gift, however large or small. Incorporating this practice into daily life lightened my heart, and helped to naturally cultivate a spirit of gratitude.
Beauty gives me energy, so I learned that if I was regularly recognizing and appreciating even a few bits of beauty around me, I had more energy to bring to the difficult questions I was mulling.
I don’t think that our problems will ever vanish — we’ll never find a hack that makes hard things become easy overnight. But for me, these practices made that season of my life much more fruitful. These practices helped my husband and me to discuss, process, and plan for a future together that met both of our needs.