Discomfort as an Invitation to Spiritual Growth

healthy_livingContinued from here.

As part of my ponderings over this very uncomfortable topic (pun intended again), God led me to a different perspective: discomfort is actually God’s invitation to spiritual growth. Whenever I experience discomfort, whether it’s simply annoying to severely painful, God is inviting me to grow in my dependency upon Him. He’s inviting me to move away from where I have been comfortable and into a new place of deeper intimacy with him. Perhaps this is how Paul was able to say:

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (1 Cor. 12:10).

We only delight in weakness when we recognize that it drives us to deeper dependency upon God, who can be fully trusted. We must give up the illusion of being in control over anything and rest knowing that God will empower us to be strong in our weakness.

In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lews said,

The creature’s illusion of self-sufficiency must, for the creature’s sake, be shattered.”

Lewis goes on to say:

We cannot therefore know that we are acting at all, or primarily, for God’s sake, unless the material of the action is contrary to our inclinations, or (in other words) painful, and what we cannot know that we are choosing, we cannot choose. The full acting out of the self’s surrender to God therefore demands pain: this action, to be perfect, must be done from the pure will to obey, in the absence, or in the teeth, of inclination.”

To put this in simpler terms, restoration to a relationship with God requires us to let Him define what’s “good” rather than our own inclinations. To accomplish this, God must repeatedly place us in situations in which our inclinations differ from God’s will. It’s only when we choose His way over our own – when we forgive those who hurt us, for example – that we are restored to the place of restoration with God. My will must surrender to God’s will, even when it hurts. In this way, the discomfort I experience in my day-to-day life becomes an invitation to breaking my self-will, surrendering to God, and developing deeper dependence upon Him. As I do this, intimate relationship is restored between the Creator and the created.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace eating a salad over the words, “Healthy Living.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

The Role of Discomfort

Continued from here.

If God says that discomfort is “good” and should be my expectation, with comfort being an exception provided in the short-term to refresh me, then there must be more to discomfort than I’m seeing. (Not sure I would have received this message well on the tour bus after my fourth hour of nausea!) What positive role might discomfort serve in our lives?

I’m very comfortable in my bed at night. After a busy day of work, I relish curling up under my quilt and burrowing myself in my pillows. Left to my own devices, I would never leave the comfort of my bed in the morning. Why do I leave it? Because of the discomfort of my full bladder. The discomfort in my bladder when I awaken in the morning motivates me to leave the comfort of my bed. In other words, comfort lulls me to stay where I am whereas discomfort motivates me to move.

When I sin, I generally enjoy the immediate, selfish “benefits.” What motivates me to repent? The discomfort of conviction. If God let me remain comfortable in my sin, I would continue to do it because, quite frankly, it takes no effort to do whatever I feel like doing in the moment. However, it requires considerable effort (at least at first) to make countercultural and counterintuitive choices, such as blessing someone who wrongs me, obeying laws I don’t agree with (such as the speed limit), or humbling myself when everything within me wants to assert my rights.

In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lews said,

The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it…pain insists on being attended to … it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

In other words, discomfort is the cattle prod God uses to drive me toward spiritual growth. If God removes the cattle prod, I’m inclined to stay comfortably where I am … and as I am. Since God’s will for me is spiritual growth (transformation into Christlikeness), He must keep me uncomfortable to keep me motivated to change. Thus, discomfort is actually GOOD for me. (Again, I don’t like this message any more than you do!)

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of The Problem of Pain. Courtesy Amazon.

 

If God is Good, How Could He Want Me to be Uncomfortable?

fruitContinued from here.

If this topic is making you uncomfortable (pun intended), I’m right there with you. I’m not a natural martyr. I don’t like this concept any more than you do, but God pounded me with it in Ireland, immediately following up this revelation in my quiet time with a full day of motion sickness on the tour bus as we drove the Ring of Kerry for 8 bumpy, windy hours (with lots of photo stops). I did not pass the test. I’m still learning the lesson, which is one reason I am blogging about it.

Why would God want us to stay in a perpetual state of discomfort with only short seasons of comfort provided to refresh us? Isn’t God good? This is how the enemy attacks me. When God’s ways don’t align with what I want, I’m prone to question God’s goodness. I assume that whatever I want (in this case, comfort) is “good,” and since I’m not getting what I want, it must be “bad.” And since God is allowing the “bad,” perhaps He isn’t good after all … which is exactly what the enemy wants me to believe. If I doubt God’s goodness, then I’m more prone to disobey Him.

I have learned through experience that God’s ways are always best, no matter how I feel. Like Eve in the Garden of Eden, I am not capable of distinguishing “bad” from “good” because my perspective only considers how I am personally affected. God told Adam that the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was bad, but Eve didn’t take His word for it. The enemy lured her into questioning whether God was holding out on her, and she made up her own mind about whether the fruit was good. She saw a tasty piece of fruit that looked good to her and ate it. God had already warned her that the fruit was bad: He saw a broader perspective that Eve could not see. Eve’s comfort in eating one piece of fruit came with the cost of separation from God and Jesus’ sacrifice to restore us.

I am no different from Eve. I call “good” what looks pleasing to me (comfort) and “bad” what doesn’t (discomfort). How do I learn to adopt Paul’s perspective of actually delighting in discomfort?

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling and leaning against a large peach. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Why Do I Expect to be Comfortable?

cucumbersContinued from here.

Back to my quiet time in Ireland…After God asked why I have the expectation of being comfortable and I replied with, “Huh??,” God led me to examine the role of the Sabbath. God commands us to work for six days and rest for one. He asked what the purpose of the Sabbath is. My response was that it’s to rest, rejuvenate, and reconnect with Him so I have the energy to dive back into six more days of work. He asked why I don’t have the expectation of resting for six days and only working for one. My response was that he designed me to bear fruit, and that requires work. He led me to see that the Sabbath is a day set aside to enjoy the fruits of my labor, but it’s the exception, not the rule. He designed me for work, not rest. The purpose of rest is to prepare me for more work so that I may bear much fruit.

He then asked why I believe that comfort should be the rule rather than the exception. I again responded with, “Huh??” Comfort is so ingrained in me as part of the American culture that I had a very hard time following where God was seeking to lead me. (God knows that I can be rather hard-headed!) OF COURSE I want to be comfortable! Who in their right mind would choose discomfort?

God then placed on my heart that in addition to bearing much fruit, His will for me is to transform into the image of Christ. Transformation means change or growth. There’s a reason for the term growing pains — growth is painful. Not what I wanted to hear.

I once heard it said that there’s not much growth in a comfort zone or comfort in a growth zone. When I choose to stay comfortable, am I actually impeding my growth? As I seek out ways to be comfortable in how I spend my time, who I choose to associate with, and where to invest my energy in my day-to-day life, am I actually choosing NOT to grow into the image of Christ?

Perhaps comfort, like the Sabbath, is intended to be a brief respite that enables me to rest, rejuvenate, and reconnect with God before diving back into the next growth spurt. Might my pursuit of comfort actually be stunting my spiritual growth?

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace lying on a pillow with cucumber slices over her eyes. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Am I too Comfortable?

relaxWhen I was in Ireland, God placed an interesting question on my heart during my quiet time:

Why do you have the expectation of being comfortable?”

My response was pretty much, “Huh??” Of course, I want to be comfortable! I want to do X, Y, and Z in obedience to God and live happily ever after within His protection and comfort. What’s wrong with that? Apparently a lot, which is what I have been pondering as I wrestle with the question of whether I am too comfortable and why comfort is a problem.

Before I dive into the specifics, let me share something interesting I heard through a member of my local church. My church helped relocate some Montagnard families to North Carolina. (The link I provided is not to my local church, but it’s the same story.) In short, the Montagnard people were persecuted for practicing their Christian faith in Vietnam, so many relocated to the U.S. to freely worship God. After one Montagnard family had been in the United States for several years, someone asked whether it was easier to be a Christian in the U.S., fully expecting the answer to be yes. The answer surprised her, which is why she shared the story with me.

According to this Montagnard woman who had been persecuted in Vietnam and separated from some of her family members as they were brought over to the U.S. in stages, living out her faith in the U.S. is actually harder than in Vietnam. Why? Because the U.S. is so comfortable. In Vietnam, she had to hold onto God with both hands and depend upon Him for protection. Here in the U.S., where she can freely practice her faith, she has to resist the lull of complacency that was never an issue for her while she was being persecuted in Vietnam.

This perspective shocked me, but it’s biblical. King David stayed close to God all the years he was in hiding but committed his grievous sin with Bathsheba after living in the comfort of the palace for a number of years. Paul was given a thorn in his flesh to keep him from getting too comfortable, and after God refused to take the thorn away, he learned to stop seeking comfort and, instead, delight in hardships, which are, by definition, uncomfortable.

Am I too comfortable?

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace relaxing on a large pillow. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Experiencing Joy in the Midst of the Painful Circumstances

hospital4_blogContinued from here.

The quote from Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts Devotional: Reflections on Finding Everyday Graces, that I shared in my last blog entry is a hard truth, but it’s one that will transform your life once you embrace it. We want happiness, which comes from God giving us what we want. However, God wants to give us joy, which is not dependent upon our circumstance. You can experience joy even in the midst of devastating circumstances if you will believe that God has provided you with a well of joy and open your eyes to see it. I know because I have experienced it.

Although my childhood was filled with ongoing, severe childhood abuse, my most painful memory is spending five nights in the hospital with my then-15-year-old son as he recovered from major back surgery. I had three months to prepare for this emotionally-draining experience and had numerous people praying us through the experience. I felt every prayer.

In the midst of watching my son suffer as I muddled my way through trying to support him on limited sleep and precious little alone time with God, I experienced joy. While there was nothing enjoyable in the experience, God provided me with wells of joy to get me through the most painful week of my life. I found joy in the Ronald McDonald room on the floor … in the cards and visits from family and friends … in the beauty of sitting in the shade on a bench surrounded by gorgeous flowers. I would not choose to relive that experience, but I certainly experienced much joy during a season of sorrow and pain. I found joy in the midst of the pain because I found God there. Where we find God, we have access to joy, and God is always … ALWAYS … with us.

[Graphic: Photograph of garden in the hospital. Courtesy Grace Daniels. ]

 

How Can You Believe God is Close When You Don’t Feel His Presence?

Continued from here.

I shared earlier this week that my answer to how close I feel to God at any given moment is a 10 (with 10 being the closest I have ever felt), not because I FEEL His presence all the time but because I know the REALITY is that He is always close to me, no matter how I am feeling. I no longer allow my feelings to drive my reactions. I have learned that my feelings are a byproduct of how I am thinking. If I want to change how I feel, then I need to change how I think.

The World says that “seeing is believing,” but the message of the Bible is that believing is seeing. Hagar provided a great example of this in Gen. 21:14-19:

[Hagar] went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, ‘I cannot watch the boy die.’ And as she sat there, she began to sob. God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.’ Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.”

God did not have angels rapidly digging a well while speaking with her. Hagar was so distressed and driven by her feelings that she didn’t see the well that was nearby. The reality is that there’s always a well nearby because God is always nearby, but we often don’t see the well because we don’t believe it’s there.

In her book One Thousand Gifts Devotional: Reflections on Finding Everyday Graces, Ann Voskamp words it this way:

Whenever I am blind to joy’s well, isn’t it because I don’t believe in God’s care? That God cares enough about me to always offer me joy’s water, wherever I am, regardless of circumstance. But if I don’t believe God cares, if I don’t want or seek the joy He definitely offers somewhere in this moment—I don’t want God. In His presence is fullness of joy. He is in this moment. The well is always here. God is always here—precisely because he does care…You have to want to see the well before you can drink from it. You have to want to see joy, God in the moment.”

How humbling to realize that when we don’t sense God’s presence in our circumstances, it’s because we are the ones pushing God away.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of One Thousand Gifts Devotional: Reflections on Finding Everyday Graces. Courtesy Amazon.]