Discomfort comes in many forms, in varied shapes and sizes. Whether circumstantial, relational, physical, financial or spiritual, the thing we all know about discomfort is THAT IT COMES.
Our natural tendency is to recoil when pain and discomfort hit close to home. We FIGHT it! We DENY it! We COMPLAIN ABOUT it! We RUN FROM it! We try our hardest to protect our children from it. We put on our Christian ‘happy face‘ to try to camouflage it. And we wonder what we did in order to ’cause’ it.
But we’re looking at it ALL WRONG.
Surely you’ve read in the Bible about the lepers. These poor, suffering people were outcasts of society because of their disease, which served to deform their bodies and make others very, VERY uncomfortable. Leprosy is still a problem today in parts of our world, and leper colonies still exist. But leprosy itself is often misunderstood.
We tend to think of leprosy as deforming sores on the body – an uncontrollable ‘rash’ of sorts that is extremely contagious. Leprosy is actually marked, though, by a lack of pain sensation – nerve endings that don’t work properly and are unable to send pain signals to the brain. The result of this condition is that people with leprosy don’t feel pain. Much of the damage done to the limbs of those with this disease is a result of this inability to feel pain. When they injure themselves, it doesn’t hurt. They can’t feel infection. They don’t know when to stop scratching. There is no pain trigger to let them know that something is wrong.
For the leper, physical discomfort and PAIN would be a GIFT.
Discomfort is just as necessary for you and me.
It forces us to SEEK COMFORT.
When we’re feeling comfortable, we tend to assume that we’ve got everything we need. Everything is taken care of. We’ve got it all ‘together’ – right? Our immediate need for God is diminished by the faulty assumption that we can handle whatever comes next (because we’re smart enough, rich enough and connected enough).
God knows this about us. One role of discomfort is that it forces us to look for comfort and, ultimately, for God. Our pain draws us closer to the one true source of comfort, but in the process it makes a seeker out of us. And if there’s one promise for those in discomfort that God wants to keep, it’s the one that says,
“Seek and ye shall find.” Matthew 7:7
It reminds us that all is NOT RIGHT in the world.
We like our illusions, don’t we? Especially the ones we create to keep us feeling safe in a world that is constantly threatening to spin us out of control. More often than not, when pain is absent in our lives, we perpetuate the lie that all is well when in reality, all may seem well with US, but all is NOT WELL with the world around us. People are suffering. People are dying. People are lonely. People are being victimized. People are being ignored. These things are NOT ALL RIGHT, and the God who made those who are suffering is not served by our immature, knee-jerk tendency to live life in the Christian bubble, blinders on to what’s happening all around us in the ‘real’ world.
Our discomfort, then, is a reminder that there is work to do in the Kingdom of God.
The world around us would be thrilled to see us ‘settle’ for an illusion of personal comfort, especially if that lie would keep us from operating in the power of God’s Spirit on this earth. God, on the other hand, is issuing an invitation to you and to me to be an active, living representation of His Kingdom in this world. And His invitation is sealed by the discomfort that we feel. Our pain serves to motivate us to see the world around us as it really is – wounded, needy, hungry, imprisoned – and to join God in His ongoing mission to DO SOMETHING about it.
It STRETCHES us.
When we’re comfortable, we don’t see a need for change. In fact, we FIGHT CHANGE if it threatens to ruffle the feathers of the cozy nest we’ve made! Pain and discomfort require that we stretch our knowledge, understanding, boundaries and limits. It pushes us into new territory and necessitates new ways of thinking as we are stretched to fit the new realities that our pain and discomfort have revealed.
Sometimes God uses this stretching to re-shape us, creating a better fit between our personal life and ministry and the world in need around us.
Sometimes God stretches us for the purpose of expanding our capacity for things like love and grace, making us more able to hold all that He is pouring into our lives for the benefit of others.
Either way, God’s stretching is His way of making the footprints of our lives more like those of His Son.
The necessity of discomfort is a fact of life for the one who wishes to walk the narrow road with Christ. Pay attention to your pain, my friends! Each pinch and poke can cause you to seek the Healer, who has promised to be found when you seek Him with all your heart. Wiggle and writhe willingly as you break open the seal to the holy invitation you’ve received. Answer the call to join in the ongoing work to redeem His creation outside your front door. Persevere through the stretching of your life as you are shaped and grown to meet the needs of the walking wounded in your midst.
And in your discomfort, may you find that these faithful words of Christ are true:
“Staying with it – that’s what God requires. Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry, and you’ll be saved.” Matthew 24:13 (The Message)