Practicing Discomfort

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Being uncomfortable does not come naturally. We tend to avoid it. If a chair is wobbly or has a lumpy seat, we move to another seat, or we try to replace it. When it is cold, we wear coats. When it is hot, we seek shade or air conditioning. No one likes to be uncomfortable.

A 1916 brochure said, “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.” Little discomforts can distract us from the bigger picture. Many years ago, I was hiking in Isle Royale National Park. The friction between my heels and a new pair of boots wore debilitating blisters on the back of each foot. At the end of a long day of hiking, when I saw the blisters, I could think of nothing else. The park has wolves and moose. It feels like one of those thin places where the veil between earth and heaven lifts slightly. Instead of seeing God in a wilderness that exceeds superlatives, I could only think of my feet. 

In church, we are no different. Anything that disrupts our expectations can create discomfort. A new song begs the question, “What is wrong with the good old hymns?” After reading a new translation of scripture in worship, someone says, “I like the King James Version. That’s the way I learned it.” New worship arrangements, unusual subjects, artistic displays, modern composers, incorporating things in church that we have never used before—all of these things create discomfort. 

Lumpy seats and foot blisters are discomforts to avoid. New worship, art, translations, composers, and cultural artifacts are not. Do something new just to do something new rarely leads to spiritual growth. Being constrained by the fear of discomfort does not yield growth either. As followers of Christ, we must fearlessly go where God leads. 

How do we prepare to go where God leads? One step on this path is to practice discomfort. We can try new things, introduce new elements, seek new opportunities, and leave our comfort zones. As we do, we enter into a Land of Discomfort. We do not live there. We do not have to stay there. The act of entering into the Land of Discomfort prepares us for future opportunities. 

For many people, talking to a homeless person is a new experience. It can be jarring because we do not have a frame of reference for that person’s daily existence. I remember when I was volunteering at the Roanoke Rescue Mission in the early 1990s. My background in Roanoke County did not prepare me for working with homeless men. I did not know what to say. So, I said, “Hi. My name is Matt.” 

John Sylvester-Johnson invited me to work with some men in a long-term recovery program. Over several months, I began to build relationships with some of the men. One week, I invited several of the men who I had been getting to know to go sailing with me. We drove to Smith Mountain Lake and enjoyed a day on the water. 

By the time we left the dock, I could not remember any feelings of discomfort. I was simply going sailing with some friends. As I think back on it, Jesus’ words recounted in John 15:15 come to my mind. “I no longer call you [recipients of ministry-to]. Instead, I call you friends.”

Practicing discomfort prepares us for God’s opportunities.


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