Lean into the pain: the fear-tension-pain cycle

by kattiewampus

I didn’t want to be in the hurting place again — that in-between place of sadness and confusion, and painful healing, and trying to find my way again. It made me angry to find myself there. To be left there — again — against my will, powerless.

I am angry still. Angry at what feels like injustice. What feels like betrayal. I’m angry to be hurting.

“God of mercy, sweet love of mine, I have surrendered to your design” — and yet I don’t understand why this is happening.  And because of that, the only words that speak comfort to me right now are these words that tell me to lean into the pain rather than fight it. These words that do not minimize or dismiss or condemn the pain.

Taken from Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist:

The Fear-Tension-Pain Cycle

“Because we are afraid, we naturally hold back and tense up, and then there is more pain, so we experience even more fear, and on it goes, around and around, building with intensity on every turn. To interrupt the cycle, we need to surrender to what is happening, right now. We must lean into the pain instead of resisting it. […] It seems counterintuitive; we should run from pain, right? […] Believe this: I have learned to lean into some pain — to let the pain be there, part of me, without fear, without judgment, without refusal, because this is all part of the struggle of birth and life.

And the pain will, somehow, eventually, give way to blessed release and relief and, hopefully, joy.

I’ll avoid the prescriptives and how-tos for both our sakes. Instead, if you are struggling to break that cycle of fear-tension-pain, I’ll tell you a bit more about the God I love so wild but remember, the subtext for all of it is this truth: lean into it.

Lean into the pain.

Stay there in the questions, in the doubts, in the wonderings and loneliness, the tension of living in the Now and the Not Yet of the Kingdom of God, your wounds and hurts and aches, until you are satisfied that Abba is there too. You will not find your answers by ignoring the cry of your heart or by living a life of intellectual and spiritual dishonesty. Your fear will try to hold you back, your tension will increase, the pain will become intense, and it will be tempting to keep clinging tight to the old life; the cycle is true. So be gentle with yourself. […] Talk to people you trust. Pray. Lean into the pain. Stay there. And the release will come.

[…] Hurry wounds a questioning soul.”


Bessey, Sarah. Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women. New York: Howard Books, 2013. 51-52.