Embracing Paradox


“A paradox is something that appears to be a contradiction, but from another perspective is not a contradiction at all. You and I are living paradoxes, and therefore must be prepared to see ourselves in all our reality. If you can hold and forgive the contradictions within yourself, you can normally do it everywhere else too.” – Fr. Richard Rohr


It’s been 21 years now since I put my butt in the chair in a healing group and began reckoning with my story in an honest way. I had managed to get married, have two children, finish graduate school, and somehow never get in touch with what was really going on in my soul. I was living a life divided—on the outside I looked put together, confident, spiritually mature, and strong. Inside, I felt lonely, filled with shame, and so insecure it was scary.

When I started talking to other women about our real lives, I realized I wasn’t alone. There were so many of us who were wrestling with a life divided, with either being good or bad, wrong or right, black or white, dark or light. Much of my Christian experience cemented this kind of thinking. “Gray” was considered unbiblical. “Fear” meant we weren’t trusting God properly. “Anger” equated to a lack of maturity. “Doubt” equaled lack of proper faith.

The result: when negative feelings arose, I’d do anything possible to push them down, squeeze them out—work like a crazy person to get rid of them.

This week, I couldn’t help but think that one of the most important tools we can pack in our suitcases is “paradox.” In fact, without it, I think the journey is impossible. We can’t travel to new places if we are constantly swinging from one side to the next, unable to hold the tension of contradictions about ourselves, others, and even God in the same space.

There are so many different paradoxes within all of us. Most human beings I know, when they’re being really honest, are a crazy mixture of good and bad, light and dark, ugly and beautiful, strong and weak, confident and fearful. It’s what makes us human.

I believe so much freedom would come if we could better learn how to first embrace the paradoxes in ourselves. And if we can embrace the paradoxes in ourselves, it’s far more likely that we can accept them in other people (including God) as well. That could change the course of so many things personally and corporately in our communities.

Embracing paradox can help us:

  • Learn to accept all parts of ourselves instead of rejecting the ugly-real-human-being stuff and being mad at God and ourselves for not getting it out fast enough.
  • Develop keener eyes to see the beauty and the ugly (and all the other kinds of wild paradoxes that exist) together in other people (and institutions, too) instead of only focusing on only one or the other.
  • Increase the capacity for grace for ourselves and others. There’s no downside to more grace.
  • Stop setting ourselves up in relationships where we’re the all-good-one or the all-bad-one.
  • Develop a resiliency that is impossible when we demand things to be all good or all bad. We can see joy in suffering, peace in tribulations, and wholeness and healing in brokenness.
  • Widen our ability to intersect our lives with people that are very different from us. This is essential for a life of downward mobility and incarnational living.

I’m guessing this idea of paradox isn’t new to many of you. But I do believe wholeheartedly that it is much easier to talk about in an intellectual sense than truly embrace it in the deep places of our hearts and our experiences.

One of my favorite parts about the Christmas story is it is filled with paradox. An ordinary girl chosen for an extraordinary mission. A mighty king born in a lowly stall. The powerful and wise drawn to a tiny baby. A God who is also human.

I’ll end with this, one of my favorite Brennan Manning quotes ever:

“When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and I get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, and I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer. To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life’s story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side, I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. As Thomas Merton puts it, ” … a Saint is not someone who is good but someone who experiences the goodness of God.”


Dear Shelovelys, how easy or hard is for to embrace the paradoxes in yourself, others, God?