Holding Both

I talked in my post last week about how being still, being right where we are, often takes more energy than jumping up into frantic action. We want to “be present,” but we underestimate how much discipline and grace is required in returning, over and over again, to today . . . especially if today is some kind of unresolved “messy middle” that is very much still unfolding.

I am doing this work right now in my own life, resisting the urge to jump ahead of a messy middle that I’m in. Of course, I do jump ahead. I forecast and I fantasize and I forget all this great wisdom. My heart starts to race and my chest gets heavy and I know I’ve launched into territory that isn’t helpful. Grace, in that very moment, means I simply begin again instead of bullying myself for messing up. Ugh.

Something that helps me be where I am is what I call “holding both”– allowing space in our souls for opposing emotions to simultaneously be true. For example, glorious beauty & a well of sadness. Possibility & regret. Peace & worry. Trust & fear.

As I’m writing this post, I can see the window pictured above. It’s a vintage stained glass window, and it’s broken. Both beautiful and broken.

Anxiety, desperation, trauma, and scarcity thinking force us to choose one experience. That person is either bad or good. This situation is either bad or good. I am either doing a good job or a bad job handling this. The past is either bad or good. The future is either bad or good.

I can’t even tell you how unhelpful this all is. Holding both isn’t magical thinking. It is a spiritual discipline, in my opinion. We do the work of looking for the nuance instead of allowing ourselves to be backed into a corner.

One thing we learn when we go through difficult seasons (if we will do the work of getting help and support instead of getting stuck), is that they will actually expand us instead of reduce us. They will give us more capacity for empathy, love, and trust. They will expand our faith. They will give us more capacity for holding both.

A way to practice holding both is to write down some of the opposing things you’re thinking about or feeling right now. Pair seeming opposites if you can with a big fat “&” between them:

Empathy & Anger

Heartbreak & Hope

Lost & Found

Beauty & Brokenness

Death & Life

And let’s be real clear that it takes A LOT of energy to hold both. So we might need a nap or a long walk or we may not end up being as productive as we’d like to be. That’s OK. It’s worth it. Dualistic, either/or thinking is what gets us completely stuck in bitterness, rage, self-protection. Holding both is what allows room for grace, movement, resilience, the work of the Holy Spirit.

I hate that life can be, in the very same second, both broken and beautiful, but it can. And it is. Allowing space for both will keep our souls from souring. I believe this wholeheartedly.

Love and grace to all of us who are holding both today,



15 Responses to “Holding Both”

  1. Paige E

    I know that I have learned I can be both blessed and struggling at the same time. And that’s ok. Sometimes I can even struggle with the blessings! I can be both grateful and exhausted. Life can be both crazy and wonderful. Right now I’m holding on to feeling sad that my boys are growing up and needing me less and being happy that I can go ride my bike and leave them at the house playing video games together. I’m faced with having to get to know myself again, figuring out what to do with all this space, fighting my tendency to hold on to them and be overly involved with their lives. Knowing I need a hobby, and to explore my own interests, but really struggling to look in the mirror – fearing what I will see when “mama” is not primary. OVERWHELMING

  2. Kirsten

    Both. Love the & activity. I’m still learning the art of living in “both” and the messy middle. Sometimes the emotional whiplash wears me out. This month has offered more practice. How do I grieve with friends impacted by Vegas and fires, yet be present, undistracted (and not feel guilty) with my children who are safe and carefree? How do I see dreams coming to life and schedule a medical appointment that is terrifying? How do I enjoy and celebrate beauty while others close to me are grieving? How do I hold both and stay standing? The answer I know is to kneel down low and pray. With joy in all circumstances. And accepting that circumstances always include “both.” Then I stand and take one step forward. 💗

    • Leeana

      “Emotional whiplash” is SO good. YES. I don’t know any other way than prayer and one step at a time.

  3. Julie Joiner

    Agreed! Life is full of holding both, but you are right when you say it can be exhausting. Reading your words today opened my understanding of why I feel so tired these days; I am in the midst of holding several opposites. I am not giving myself the rest I need to maintain this space of holding both heartbreak & hope, death & life, motivated & weary, dread & anticipation. I imagine there are more, but I am too tired to think. Thanks for the reminder to rest and allow myself time to be unproductive. I crave an unproductive afternoon and may just allow the rest of this afternoon to be as such. Blessings!
    Julie Joiner

    • Leeana

      I think this is so key, Julie. We don’t understand why we’re so tired until we realize all we’re holding and processing. I hope you got some rest and some renewed capacity.

  4. Michelle Lisenbee

    Thank you for this reminder. This concept is not one that is new to me, but the reminder that holding this space requires REST is something I need to be reminded of over and over. Thank you. Have you seen Liz Lamoreux’s website? On her home page she says, “Come along and join me in a conversation about navigating what I call The And Space. This is a place where we hold beauty in one hand and the grit in the other.” The same idea….I think you’d like her. :) (https://www.lizlamoreux.com/)

    And also, in a class I took once, they talked about replacing the word “BUT” with the word “AND” and seeing how that changes things. I love your work. Thank you for sharing.

    • Leeana

      Thank you so much, Michelle. I am not familiar with Liz but will check her out. And yes yes yes about the rest needed to sustain holding both!

  5. Marian Vischer

    I love this. The spiritual discipline of holding both. Because you’re right, it isn’t something that comes naturally and I can miss the beauty and the gifts altogether. Thank you for this timely post–I needed it!

  6. Threads of Grace

    […] helpful and healing article recently by one of my favorite writers, Leeana Tankersley, about “holding both” in these “middle” seasons. Her words resonated within me as I’m doing precisely […]

  7. Robin

    I’ve had this tab open since you shared it in Hope*writers like a month ago and finally read it this morning. It seems God was holding it for me for exactly today, when I’m most aware of my messy middleness after minimal sleep and my frustration at holding anger with empathy and weariness with hope. It takes so much energy. Thank you for saying so. I needed permission to lower my standards for today.


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