Make us comfortable with being uncomfortable

Make us comfortable with being uncomfortable January 5, 2015

Yesterday in church, our pastor prayed, “Make us comfortable with being uncomfortable.” I’d been looking for a New Year’s resolution, vision statement, or manifesto of some kind, and this seems like a good candidate. It captures the heart of the Christian discipleship journey. On the one hand, we should be “comfortable” because we’re safe. God has assured us of his unconditional love for us through everything that Jesus has done. But the reason we need this baseline “comfort” is in order to step into the “uncomfortable” process of bravely facing the things about our hearts and lives that need changing.

As a default, human beings are not comfortable with being made uncomfortable. I realize it sounds like a meaningless tautology to say that. But this statement is true about a number of discomforts that we face every day. We are not comfortable with being wrong. We are not comfortable with witnessing human suffering first-hand. We are not comfortable with being asked for money. We are not comfortable with learning that the world really isn’t the fair and friendly place we thought it was. We are not comfortable with encountering the legitimacy and sincerity of people whom we perceive to be our ideological enemies. One measure of our spiritual maturity is the degree to which we have gained comfort with each of these things. Not necessarily comfort per se, but the willingness not to turn away from the discomfort.

Too often, our discomfort with cognitive dissonance or having our heart-strings pulled by another person’s suffering makes us build ideological walls against it. The function of ideology is often to provide us with stories that explain and dismiss people whose encounters make us feel uncomfortable. For example, the “bootstraps” ideology about poverty in our country serves this function. When a homeless person asks us for money, we reassure ourselves that he’s entirely to blame for his predicament because he’s an addict or just a stubborn, lazy person.

Christians can be quite sneaky in our tactics for evading the discomfort of facing our own sin. We say things that sound tough and “uncomfortable” about sin in general, whether it’s the sex that conservatives love to talk about or the racism that progressives love to talk about, but this often serves the purpose of getting us off the hook for our own personal sin. I wonder how many times Jesus smacks himself in the forehead every day watching how we Christians behave. He didn’t die for our sins so that we could be the people who talk tough about what everybody else is doing. The greatest freedom Jesus has to offer us is the freedom to be wrong and face truths about our world and ourselves that make us uncomfortable. One way to measure how “saved” Christians are is to see how comfortable they are doing things like admitting their mistakes without defensiveness, listening carefully to their adversaries to find truths they can affirm, and sitting with those who suffer without any quick-fix solutions.

I really don’t like being made uncomfortable, which is precisely what God is doing in my life right now. So far, campus ministry has made more uncomfortable than any other ministry I’ve ever been involved in, not that it hasn’t also been exhilarating. It’s a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows every week. My ministry is so small that when one or two people blow me off, it’s devastating. I feel so much pressure to get “results,” and it’s become clear that without God’s intervention, I will fail. I really want to be in the part of the story where I’m looking back on the bumpy beginnings and chuckling about how I never thought I’d make it. But you’ve got to go through the part where you don’t see how you’re going to make it first. So God, make me comfortable with being uncomfortable. Help me to do my best and trust you with the rest.

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  • Gregory Nelson

    I prefer the word scary to uncomfortable. I like to say Christ calls us to scary places. I like ‘scary’ because I have found the greatest comfort in allowing my meager person to be a tool of the Holy Spirit. It is scary, and I think it would be uncomfortable, but it turns out to be comfortable. The wonder is that what our evolutionary limitations tell us (another couple of words for our earthly selves) are that we would be comfortable just staying where we are rather than going someplace scary. But non-action is actually very uncomfortable compared to action with the Spirit.

    Your blog title says as much. Mercy is a scary thing to practice. It is a nice word for forgiveness. Forgiveness is always a challenge because it means you surrender control. So practicing mercy means giving up control. And that is implicit in the prayer you focus on in today’s blog. “Make me comfortable with being uncomfortable.” It is like saying, “Remind me that because you love me, because you surrendered to me, you can teach me to love to surrender my control.”

    And the great secret is that is a wonderful, joyous, powerful and glorious thing to accomplish. To surrender to Christ is to surrender to each other is to surrender to love. Lord let me live to surrender to you!

    But sacrifice is not the same. We have a bad history with that word. We ask others to sacrifice instead of inviting them to a banquet. How is sacrifice a life of abundance? And it also is our biggest source of a living lie. To go to the scary places is not a sacrifice. It is the only way not to be sacrificed up to a false god.

    We are so good at making god into the paymaster of our own judgements. I really think we invented hell itself. I believe in hell here on earth and I know we invented that one. The after-life hell is something that only a human being could invent. I don’t know what happens to the Adolf Hitlers in the world when they die. It does not accomplish a thing to even worry about it. Christ says come live my mercy in the world! He never said, “spend some time trying to figure out how much punishment others receive.”

    Christ is not a hard taskmaster. It just looks that way from the outside. Everyone thinks monasteries are bleak places, but I have heard that the monks are the happiest people on earth. I think it is true. I want to be that happy.

    So let’s go be scared in the best possible way! Remember what all the angels say, “Don’t be scared!”

  • Guthrum

    Many churches are zones of comfort. People have their preferred parking and seating. They get offended if someone sits or parks in their places. People want comfortable, warm fuzzy, “I’m Ok, you’re ok” sermons. Disagreement and debate are discouraged. Meeting budgets, having a good time, “we’ve always done it this way” thinking prevails. Reaching people for Jesus gets no mention. Taking the Gospel out to the public could be stressful, “dangerous”. Someone might get offended.
    Good luck and God bless your campus ministry. Our young people are searching for answers and meaning. They need to hear about Jesus.