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Favorite Paradox

By Karen Austin

Photo by Jenny Downing


For the past several weeks, I have been negotiating constant change as well as the possibility of additional change.  I have long been an anxious person and a planning person, so this prolonged and pervasive uncertainty has pushed me way past my comfort zone.

What are my choices when faced with so many elements beyond my control?   Being anxious, angry, depressed, or annoyed isn’t going to achieve anything. In fact, these approaches will only increase conflict in my life.   When pushed to a breaking point, it’s time to find a new way of being.

In an effort to achieve a measure of peace amid turmoil, I have decided to embrace the paradox of feeling secure amid uncertainty.

This isn’t the first time that embracing a paradox has helped me achieve greater peace.

During my 20s and early 30s, I spent a lot of time trying to eliminate the tensions between faith and reason until I finally decided to frolic within the borderlands between the two.

In my late 30s and my 40s, I wrestled with competing roles.  I adopted too many to list, but wife, mother, employee, housekeeper, neighbor, and gal pal were all competing for my time and my core identity.  I finally decided that it was OK to inhabit more than one role at a time—breastfeeding at work, grading papers at play group, giving a sacrament meeting talk on rhetorical tropes, talking about prayer during a student conference.  And I shed a few roles for a time, knowing that I could pick them up later or carry them forward in my character even if I didn’t actively pursue them anymore.

Now that I’ve reached my 50s, I’ve found that I’m learning how to negotiate through multiplying paradoxes.

How can I love people without understanding them or relating to them?  How can I serve people whose problems are far too big for me to address?  How can I let go of growing children that I hold so dear?  How can I exert physical strength with increased physical frailty? How can I magnify my church calling when my personal resources are limited?  How can I manage my household budget when hit with numerous, costly unexpected expenses? How can I feel whole while being persistently broken?

How can I sing and dance amid turmoil?

At present, I find myself very drawn to elements that embrace nonduality—to poetry (“Much Madness is divinest Sense”), to Buddhist koans, to people who live on the margins of society, to works of art that defy categorization, and to paradoxes in my own religious tradition.

I’m shifting my goals away from securing permanent roles in permanent places with absolute knowledge.  I’d describe for you my emerging way of being and my new personal philosophy, but I’m in flux.  I’m making this up as I go along.

I will note that I am spending more of my devotional reading time considering scripture-based paradoxes such as beauty for ashes (Isaiah 61:3), strength from weakness (Ether 12:27), the meek inheriting the earth (Matthew 5:5), losing one’s life to find it (Matthew 16:25), and the most profound and fundamental paradox–eternal life emerging from death.

What is your favorite paradox?

About Karen Austin

After living in UT, HI, CA, VA, DC, WI, WV & KS, Karen now lives in Newburgh, IN with her husband and two children. She's been a BYU writing tutor, an English teacher, technical writer, director of academic support services, and aging studies adjunct. She's reinventing herself--again. New role still pending, but mature athlete, thrift store fashionista, and court jester are strong candidates. She maintains the blog The Generation Above Me.

4 thoughts on “Favorite Paradox”

  1. One of my favorite quotes of Joseph Smith is: "By proving contraries (paradoxes) truth is manifest."

    Sounds like that's what you are doing.

  2. You may want to read the book that my stake president wrote and has just released:


    "Of the many tests that make up mortality, how we respond to the ones that occur in our human interactions and relationships will largely determine our happiness in the life to come.

    Daily oppositions are unavoidable and can be a painful test of our determination to rise above hurt or offense. But learning to love our enemies—to do good to those who hate us or despitefully use us—is easier said than done. It takes a change of heart and a reliance on the Savior’s perfect example of love and forgiveness. With incredible insight and warmth, author Scott Livingston guides readers down the path of healing as they learn to transform the “ashes” of negative interactions into something beautiful. Replete with scriptural references, prophetic counsel, and poignant stories, Beauty for Ashes provides readers with incomparable guidance through the journey of Christlike forgiveness."


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