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Posted April 24, 2017:

Discomfort Can Be Good

This spring I have been doing the training program for Seattle Urban Nature Guides at Discovery Park in Seattle. Formal training is over now and I’m into doing observations of experienced SUN-guides and assisting as they lead programs and outings.

Part of our overall guide training was an afternoon of “Diversity Training” from a City of Seattle team. They started by laying out several “norms,” one of which was “anticipate discomfort.” And there was some — for me and for others as we proceeded.

I like the “discomfort” norm. It sort of normalized discomfort and told us we’d survive.

It occurs to me that it would be useful to for churches and church leaders to also, at least on occasion, forewarn people to “anticipate some discomfort” and to normalize it. Too often in the church there seems to be an unspoken and unexamined norm that “I should be comfortable at all times,” which is course ridiculous unless you are peaceably dead.

Given Jesus’propensity for dis-comforting most everyone — his disciples, weathy/ well-intentioned people, rulers, authorities, angry people and people that weren’t angry enough or were angry about silly things — we ought to expect some discomfort in church and even relish it. It won’t kill you. Really.

The discomfort that was part of diversity training came from talking about hot topics like race, sexuality and social class with people we didn’t know very well. We listened to people we probably didn’t agree with and had to put our own ideas out there.

My hunch is that few churches will make progress and be truly vital without engaging some hot topics and causing people to experience some dis-ease. It’s part of growth, is it not?

Of course, some kinds of discomfort that are worthwhile and promise greater health and well-being, at least eventually. These include learning new things, listening to people say things you don’t necessarily like or understand, taking risks, trying out new behaviors.

And there are some kinds of discomfort that aren’t in service of health and growth. These would include experiencing or putting up with verbal abuse, bullying, lying and meanness. As always there are discernments to be made here.

Still, I like the idea of churches being places that aren’t so frightened of discomfort, that normalize it, and encourage people to expect some discomfort and not run away. Sort of related I liked this column on Change in Marriage; maybe you will too? .

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