Religion Magazine

Lean Into Your Discomfort

By Marilyngardner5 @marilyngard

Getting to work this morning was an obstacle course. On Friday there was snow. 18 inches of snow. On Sunday some of it melted and turned into slush. Today it’s raining and 52 degrees.  The slush is a mix of slush-ice and deep puddles. It means walking on the road, then moving to the sidewalk, then slipping a little and going back to the road. And all the while I kept on thinking of the mantra “Lean into your discomfort.”

“Lean into your discomfort” - just get up and do it, walk through the hazards, plow through the slush, slip through the ice. Don’t sit at home, don’t refuse to go out, don’t deny that it’s uncomfortable or unpleasant – lean into the discomfort.

Lean into your discomfort. How do I lean into my discomfort so that I can come out the other side?

Google the phrase and you get a million, seven hundred and fifty thousand hits. This is a phrase that people use a lot. It is the social worker’s mantra – Lean into your discomfort. Don’t deny the pain, the grief, the anger, the frustration.

There are times when leaning into my discomfort is less complicated than others. Today is a perfect example. I just had to do it, I had to navigate the weather-induced obstacle course to get to work. Other times leaning into my discomfort is so painful I want to anesthetize the process with whatever I can, whether it be sleep, or food, or denial, or putting so much activity into my life that I don’t have to think about the discomfort.

But ultimately, I have to do it.

I think back to coming to this country as a third culture kid, fresh off the boat. FOBs we call them. I knew so little about life in the United States. I didn’t know how to shop for myself, or navigate Chicago’s public transportation system. I wasn’t sure how to dress for winter, wearing clogs through sleet, snow and ice, soaking my feet through. I didn’t even know how to eat, so I went from a curvy teen to an overweight nursing student.

And I certainly didn’t know the phrase “Lean into your discomfort”.

This entry process repeated itself at 36 years old when my husband and I moved our family to the United States — Five kids, 26 suitcases, and an Egyptian Siamese cat named Pharaoh. I didn’t know how to parent in the United States. I didn’t know how to shop for groceries or connect with the parent-teacher organization. I wasn’t sure what the unspoken rules were about play dates and birthday parties. I was unfamiliar with social cues and norms.

I wish I had known the phrase “Lean into your discomfort”. This phrase works for me. It doesn’t deny the process, it doesn’t diminish the pain. Instead it challenges me that in leaning into the pain, the discomfort, the confusion, the grief, we learn to walk. First in baby steps, then in regular steps, finally in giant steps.

The steps are like playing the childhood game of  ”Mother May I?”

“Mother may I take three giant steps” says the child. And the one who is ‘Mother’ says “No but you can take three baby steps” or “No but you can take one scissor step”. The goal is to reach ‘mother’ who is at the end of the court. When ‘Mother’ isn’t looking, the child on the court tries to sneak a couple more steps in, wanting to reach the goal faster. Leaning into our discomfort is sometimes like asking for giant steps and getting baby steps; or asking for baby steps and being told we have to take a giant step — only our legs are short and our giant steps feel small.

It can be a long process. But the more we lean, the less we try to gloss over and pretend it’s all okay; the less we sit defeated, mourning the life we find ourselves in. The more we face our feelings and circumstances, the quicker we arrive at a place of understanding, at a place that is more comfortable.

I’m at work now, the temporary discomfort of weather is outside and feels much farther than mere steps away. Other discomfort will come today, because that is life. But the thing about leaning into our discomfort is that the more we lean, the taller we stand and the braver we become.

How will you lean into your discomfort today? How have you in the past? 



Stacy was in my neighborhood on Saturday and I missed her! The world is small for the expat and TCK and she moved her daughter just blocks from where I live. Today’s muffin recipe sounds like it came from a kitchen in the south as opposed to an expatriate who lives in Dubai! It is Sweet Potato Brown Sugar Muffins and while you are reading this Stacy is flying back to Dubai! Take a look and see what you think. They look amazing!

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