Living In The Tension of Beauty and Pain

Living In The Tension of Beauty and Pain December 27, 2018
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

I’ve been mostly absent from social media for the past week. There are seasons where I come and go. I hurt my back and my lungs haven’t been clear and sometimes the pain in my life makes me hostile. Near constant pain is exhausting and sometimes it makes me tender to the world, charitable and generous because I know what it is to hurt. But sometimes it just makes me bitter.

Social media can be a treacherous terrain when I’m hurting, it’s easy to stumble. There’s the temptation to make pain performative, to harness it as an illustration or a metaphor so it has shape and purpose even if, in truth, it’s still formless. Or there’s pressure to pretend you’re ok because to not be ok for so long is absurd.  So mostly I’ve been offline trying to live through my present.

Living in the now is no small task.

We are a people of anticipation or we are a people of despair. As people who believe in Christ, hope is our native tongue but we often struggle to translate that language to the world. It’s not enough to just hope we get beamed out of here when the world goes up in flames. We’re a people of a coming Kingdom, we must live with an “on earth as it is in heaven” kind of vision. And it’s this vision that is so hard in the day to day.

The world is a mess, the world is beautiful. There is glory everywhere, everything is broken. It is a both/and sort of situation and all tension is painful and mysterious.

It’s easy to want to divide what seems secular and what seems sacred and pick a side. It’s natural to want to measure our worthiness in how much we do. It’s also normal to want to escape from it all.

I go on Twitter and I feel all the sharp edges of the world pushing in. When the pain makes me tender I see there is so much injustice, so much to care about, so much going on in the world that can’t be ignored. It would be easy to weave an entire identity out of worthy causes and hashtags, to hear the ranty edges of my voice importantly banged onto the keyboard in 280 character tweets. I could spend the day tweeting on issues and raising awareness and adding my voice but I know I’m called to the work of now and I can’t do both faithfully. So I often log off, I close the lid of my laptop, I swipe up to end the apps on my phone and I do the world changing things I can, small unseen things that I hope still matter. Sometimes when I look at everyone advertising all they have done, what I do doesn’t feel like enough.

Maybe that tension is ok too? The balance before conviction derails into guilt, to rest fully and yet know we are continually called to good works, to justice, to peacemaking.

This is what it means to abide.

It’s also easy to want to escape. To absently scroll through Amazon and mindlessly put things into my cart I have no need of  nor any intention of buying. To numb myself with food, or Netflix, or novels I can shove my nose in and disappear from my life.

Sometimes when I try to escape, everything feels frivolous. I keep seeing Instagrams of everyone’s homes all decorated and sparkly and part of me thinks it’s beautiful and part of me groans and feels like we’ve missed the point. It’s easy to feel bitter when everyone else’s life looks more beautiful than the reality of your pain. I see artfully arranged plates with fresh apple tarts and peppermint lattes swirled with creamy hearts on top and it can all feel so silly and meaningless. There are people dying of cancer, starvation, wars being waged, people out in the cold with no room or warm bed.

Sometimes I take myself more seriously than I should.

I think, what use do I have for a flower garden when there are people starving in the world? But then the blossoms bloom and I have fresh cut flowers on my table on this mornings when the world feels blunted and cold and they’re so simple and beautiful and glorious, how can I not notice them? Be thankful for them?

But then later, I find myself thinking how selfish it is of me to care about lipstick colors when children are living in cages. And then someone asks me what color I’m wearing, and it sparks a conversation and I realize being bold enough to believe myself beautiful and worthy of being seen is no small miracle.

And then I think how can I spend time decorating my living room with vintage garage sale finds when people have lost their homes? But then I find myself driving down the road on a Saturday morning in our old truck with my husbands hand resting on mine following the neon poster board signs with his and her coffees, mine milky and sweet, his bitter and black perched in the cupholders and I think this is what home is to me. This man bringing me coffee on a Saturday morning and circling all the best sales and a million miles of backroads, rummaging through rusty old tools and people’s nicknacks set out on blankets and folding tables.

This feeling of coming home with that one thing that feels like it was always meant to be yours and for such a great price because they just wanted it gone. This is grace too. Those small moments of simple wonder and peace. And I have to push down my cynical side that says this doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. It is not important enough to warrant my praise or attention. That the urgency of saving the world somehow falls more heavily on my shoulders because I know pain, how could I wish for anything but to take as much of it away as I can?

It’s easy to want to spiritualize everything and try to live above the fray of it all. To feel pain somehow makes you deeper or more adept at seeing reality but I’ve found it’s just as easy for pain to trick me. I’ve struggled with wanting to pull away from the simple beauty in my life because it all seems so frivolous. Because when you’re hurting, everything else is inconsequential and it’s easy to resent that other people stay attuned to glory when you’re just trying to survive.

But every petal that blooms spells out the majesty of God. Every flavor that melts on the tongue, every eye catching moment of splendor that is the perfect red lipstick is no accident. We keep turning our eyes toward beauty, not to ignore the ugliness in the world, but to have the strength to do something about it.

He has equipped me with everything I need. He’s not calling me to ignore his blessings or my pain, he’s asking me to bear witness to life as it is. The pain and the beauty.

He’s calling me to peace in the tension, not an escape nor another thing to do but a place to abide in him and be met with hope.

About Alia Joy
Alia Joy is an author who believes the darkness is illuminated when we grasp each other's hand & walk into the night together. She writes poignantly about her life with bipolar disorder as well as grief, faith, marriage, poverty, race, embodiment, and keeping fluent in the language of hope. Her first book, Glorious Weakness: Discovering God In All We Lack, is available for pre-order now. Sushi is her love language and she balances her cynical idealism with humor and awkward pauses. She lives in Central Oregon with her husband, her tiny Asian mother, her three kids, a dog, a bunny, and a bunch of chickens. You can read more about the author here.

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