The Productive Uses of Discomfort
At the end of a very comfortable vacation, I was reminded by an email that sometimes it’s good to be uncomfortable. This is a cliché insight, but it was made afresh to me when I heard about a former student who is busy doing missionary work overseas right now. Her life is busy and vibrant, and she is living life to the full, serving God in ways that are new for her. I’m fairly certain a lot of that is because she deliberately put herself in a situation that is uncomfortable on some level. My wife and I experienced that shortly after college in the mid-90s when we went to the Cote d’Ivoire and then Hungary to teach at schools for missionary kids. We often felt out of our element, but we grew more spiritually then than we had before or have since.
Our culture is profoundly fixated on comfort. On a trivial level, we want chairs that feel just right, mattresses that whisk us to sleep and nice warm showers. On a bigger level, we want risk-free incomes, and insurance for just about any possible catastrophe. Our culture industries continually sell us luxury, sell us relaxation, sell us ease.
These things aren’t inherently wrong, but they can make us very dull and reluctant to reform. My vacation was great—I didn’t think about reading, writing, course preparation or anything of that sort for ten whole days, and it really recharged me. But anyone who’s come back from a longish vacation knows that that transition back to productivity is tough. We get into comfortable grooves that are difficult to leave. Our relationship with God is like that: we need to chase after him, but that’s not going to happen if we’re always just taking it easy.
This isn’t just an individual thing, though. The apostle Paul refers to the people of God as the Body of Christ. When our Christian communities get comfortable, we become stale, unable to relate to the world around us and unable to inspire. The Church in western culture is now in a profoundly uncomfortable position, with declining numbers and declining prestige. And as if that weren’t enough, many Christian institutions are facing financial pressures right now too.
It’s good to be reminded by people like our TWU grads that limiting self-indulgence, that putting ourselves outside of our familiar world, that taking risks are all necessary steps to stretching and growing and building. The long, placid status quo vacation of Christian cultural dominance and guaranteed financial wealth is over. It’s time to start exercising again and see what God will do with us.