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.]


Third Purpose of Pain per C.S. Lewis

i_give_upContinued from here.

The final primary purpose of pain identified by C.S. Lewis in his book, The Problem of Pain, is harder to explain, but grasping this truth can transform you powerfully. Here’s how Lewis explains it:

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.”

Let me explain this concept in another way. Jesus said that to be his disciple, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. If it feels good to follow Jesus, then we might simply be following him because it feels good. If God blesses everything we do as we follow Jesus, how does He know whether we are following Jesus because we love him versus love the blessings? When God strips away all incentive to follow Jesus – when following him results in nothing but pain – will you continue to keep following him? Or will you walk away?

Lewis says that self-surrender is achieved …

when the creature, with no desire to aid it, stripped naked to the bare willing of obedience, embraces what is contrary to its nature, and does that for which only one motive is possible.”

And that is what Jesus did, only his standard was even higher than ours. God has promised that no matter how much pain He allows into our lives, He will never leave or forsake us. However, that was not the case with Jesus:

Martyrdom always remains the supreme enacting and perfection of Christianity … initiated for us … by Christ on Calvary. There the degree of accepted Death reaches the utmost bounds of the imaginable and perhaps goes beyond them; not only all natural supports, but the presence of the very Father to whom the sacrifice was made deserts the victim, and surrender to God does not falter though God ‘forsakes’ it.”

In other words, God has promised never to leave or forsake us, so we can lean into Him as we suffer while He perfects our faith. However, Jesus stayed true to God in his self-sacrifice despite the fact that God DID “forsake” him as He separated from Christ as he carried our sins and conquered death. Jesus, who made the supreme sacrifice of self-will, is now elevated above everyone and everything, having provided us with the ultimate example. That gives me chills!

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace lying down and holding a sign that says, “I give up.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]


Pain’s Role in Shattering the Illusion of Self-Sufficiency

break_guitarContinued from here.

I hope and pray that nobody reading this blog entry will be as stubborn as I was in letting go of the illusion of self-sufficiency. I fought God with all that I had to my own detriment, and the process was exceedingly painful, both physically and emotionally. I repeatedly threw myself against His brick wall, but He never budged. I cannot put into words how painful the process of being sifted as wheat was, but I came out on the other side with a deep fear of the Lord. I will now do whatever God tells me to do because I’m too fearful not to – not that I am “afraid” of God – I simply fear disobeying Him. I trust Him completely and know that as long as I fear Him (trust & obey Him), I need never fear anything else. He holds me in the palm of His hand.

The truth is that God created us to be dependent upon Him. Each of us has a deep yearning to fill up with Him, but most of us seek to fill that place with anything other than God. For me, some of those idols were food, friendships, and television. For others, it might be sex (pornography), drugs, alcohol, compulsive busyness, and the like. Anything we overdo is really us trying to fill the space inside that only God can fill.

Lewis said,

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

For someone like me with lots of deep emotional pain, there was plenty to work with internally to break this illusion. For people who have been blessed to grow up in safe, loving environments, God might need to allow external forms of pain, such as misfortunes, into their lives, which often leads folks to ask why God would allow such terrible things to happen in the lives of good people. One way or another, God must lead each of us to realize that only He can satisfy us, and we learn that through experiencing pain.

I share Lewis’ sentiments in revealing these realities to you:

I am only trying to show that the old Christian doctrine of being made perfect through suffering is not incredible. To prove it palatable is beyond my design.”

When I find myself in a season of suffering, I try to remember that the question I need to ask is not whether a relationship with God is too difficult. The real question is whether it’s worth it … and it is.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace breaking a guitar. Courtesy Bitmoji.]


Two Purposes of Pain per C.S. Lewis

punchContinued from here.

Now that the holidays are over, let’s continue exploring C.S. Lewis’ observations and theories from his book, The Problem of Pain. Lewis asserted that pain has three primary purposes, the first of which I explained in my last blog entry. Lewis’ identifies the first two purposes of pain as follows:

If the first and lowest operation of pain shatters the illusion that all is well, the second shatters the illusion that what we have, whether good or bad in itself, is our own and enough for us.”

I provided a specific example in my last blog entry from my own life of the first purpose of pain. God absolutely refused to heal my emotional pain from the childhood abuse, no matter how long and fervently I prayed, until I did what He said to do and forgave my childhood abusers. I never would have forgiven them if pain had not been my constant companion, alerting me that all was not well in my soul as long as I remained bitter.

My soul also needed pain to break through the self-deception of being self-sufficient. I am a recovering control freak and, in my flesh, find it extremely difficult to let go of the illusion of being in control. As a child, my world was filled with pain as others controlled my life and harmed me. As an adult, I was determined to fully control my own life and not submit to ANYONE. I saw submission as ceding control to someone else and did not trust that “someone else” not to take advantage of that control over me. This wreaked havoc in every area of my life as I repeatedly refused to submit to authority. I was extremely manipulative and knew how to give the impression of obeying those in authority over me while I did whatever looked best to me.

God broke my self-sufficiency by leading me through a season of sifting. Think of a tree trunk that has grown around a vine so that the vine appears to be part of the tree. That’s how I saw myself – I viewed the vine of control as part of who I was rather than something I was doing. So, God allowed Satan to sift me as wheat and break my will, chopping down the tree below the vine so He could then grow me back without the vine. That was one of the most painful years of my life – my dark night (year) of the soul. For one year, God was silent, and I didn’t break until I was bedridden with a debilitating illness that my doctor could not diagnose.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace being punched. Courtesy Bitmoji. ]


Pain as God’s Megaphone

megaphoneContinued from here.

Interestingly, C.S. Lewis’ take on pain in his book The Problem of Pain is similar to mine. He points out that pain is what alerts us that something needs to change – that the status quo is not OK. Think about putting your hand in a fire. If no pain was involved, you might allow your flesh to burn up before it finally occurred to you that a flame is not good for your hand. Thankfully, our skin has nerves that send us signals of pain when our flesh begins to burn so we will remove our flesh from the fire. If we want to enjoy a fire, we need to stay within the boundaries of keeping our body parts out of the flames. While it might feel great to move in closer to the fire, particularly when we are cold, at some point, our bodies send signals that we are moving in too close to the fire. If we ignore those signals and continue moving, our bodies use pain to get our attention so we will move away from the fire.

Lewis brilliantly explains this concept in this way:

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Let me give you a concrete example. For four years, I wrote “emotional healing” every week as my only prayer request at a Bible study. I sincerely wanted healing, but I was unwilling even to consider obeying God’s command to forgive my child abusers. If God had miraculously healed my brokenness without requiring me to obey his command to love and pray for my child abusers, I never would have done so – I was far too angry and bitter to do so. The ONLY reason I forgave them was because my pain spurred me on to be willing to try ANYTHING to find relief. After trying many other ways to relieve my pain, in desperation, I finally did it God’s way, and that’s when He healed my pain.

To be continued on Wednesday …

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace shouting into a megaphone. Courtesy Bitmoji.]


My Own Experience with Deep Pain

cry_me_a_riverContinued from here.

A few years, I had lunch with an old friend who knew me both before and during my therapy years. As we talked about years gone by, I made reference to being in such deep pain during the years we hung out together. She replied, “But you know what? You were never comfortable in that pain. You were always seeking a way out of it.”

Her comment got me pondering about whether there might, in fact, be a positive side to pain. Before I continue, rest assured that I am no masochist. I absolutely DESPISE being in pain. (Just ask my family how much fun I am to live with when I have a sinus infection!) As I considered my friend’s comment, I had to concede that something very positive had come out of that pain. She is correct that I was in far too much pain ever to be comfortable with the status quo. While I looked to ease my pain in a myriad of wrong places, such as in friendships or food, the inability of those idols to ease my pain long-term is what drove me into God’s arms.

Am I better off for this? Absolutely! Had I not been in terrible pain, I might have been comfortable with eating myself into morbid obesity rather than recognizing that no amount of food could “stuff down” the pain from the childhood abuse permanently. While binge eating a family-sized bag of Dorito’s offered temporary solace, the pain always returned … along with 5 or 10 more pounds. Only in Jesus did I find a lasting source of comfort.

That got me pondering whether I, in my pain from severe and ongoing childhood abuse, was actually blessed – yes, I said BLESSED!! – because it drove me into my Father’s arms. Rather than envying the Christians I meet who grew up in loving homes, I now recognize that it’s actually EASIER for me to chase God BECAUSE of the pain of my past. When one is comfortable in the blessings and protection of God, it can be tempting to be lukewarm about your faith. When your options are severe pain or chasing God with all you have, lukewarm faith is unlikely to happen because there is no place of comfort outside the loving arms of the Father.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace crying. Courtesy Bitmoji.]