Thursday, August 28, 2014

Make Yourself Uncomfortable

I value the daily blog posts of Seth Godin because of the way they often challenge me to think outside the box and approach problems from new angles. About two weeks ago, he had this gem that has been rattling around in my brain ever since:

'Doing the best I can actually not the same as, "doing everything I can.”

When we tell people we're doing the best we can, we're actually saying, "I'm doing the best I'm comfortable doing."

As you've probably discovered, great work makes us uncomfortable.'

The italics at the end are mine because that was the part that really grabbed me. It felt like a personal challenge that rings with truth from my own personal experience. I can be safe and comfortable and do okay work, but typically the biggest accomplishments and successes of my life and career have required some difficult decisions and leaps of faith.

It just so happens that this week's Gospel lesson feels like a perfect dovetail to this blog. In Matthew 16, Jesus tells his disciples that being the Messiah will lead to his own death and then challenges them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?"

Exactly what it means for us to take up our cross is a topic that could fill a book, but suffice it to say that what Jesus describes does not sound comfortable or safe. "There is great work to be done," he is telling them, "but it won't be easy."

And it's advice Jesus himself abides by. Jesus could keep teaching and healing people and the crowds would eat it up, but his end game isn't to help a few hundred people; he is there to change the world and reveal God to all people. According to Matthew's gospel, he spends his final night before crucifixion scared, worried, and literally sweating it out. Great work makes us uncomfortable...

I think there are two good lessons for Christians in this passage to ponder. First, how often do we assume that doing the right thing should be easy? If I'm doing what God asks of me, shouldn't it go smoothly? Jesus says, "No." Following Jesus is life-giving and rewarding ("those who lose their life for my sake will find it..."), but Jesus doesn't say anything in this passage about easy or comfortable. If that seems strange, just think of marriage. Almost every couple who has been married for thirty or more years tells me that staying together takes work and learning and patience, but the struggles have made the relationship stronger and richer.

The second lesson is that we need to get more comfortable with being uncomfortable. It seems to me that many or most churches struggle with breaking out of old patterns that proving ineffective at growing disciples or engaging the world because they are afraid of trying something that might fail. There is also the prevailing issue that in practice, most churches work to keep their existing members comfortable and happy. Doing bold and important work takes risks and it will not please everyone, but in an age where religious affiliation is on the decline in the Western World, standing pat is not a success story either. And as a friend is fond of reminding me, because of God's grace, "We have permission to fail, but we don't have permission to be indifferent."

If great work makes us uncomfortable and taking up our cross and losing our lives helps us find life, then maybe I need to be more aware of my decision making. Maybe my question for making decisions shouldn't be "Does this feel comfortable?" but "Does this feel important?"

“Beloved Enemy demands my life and all I am; but then He blesses me and gives it back again.” –Wes King, "Magnificent Defeat"

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