Dwelling in Discomfort

I am generally not a big fan of mental/emotional/spiritual discomfort, to the extent that I usually do something to avoid it—make plans, eat chocolate, beat up on myself and promise to do better next time—before I even realize my motivation. But this week, I had a few moments of recognizing, oh, I’m uncomfortable and apparently it’s not going to kill me.

Ronald Rolheiser advises us not to resolve tensions too easily. Perhaps sitting with discomfort, with tension, allows different options to grow.

I’m reminded of getting to know loneliness during the year I spent teaching English in China. I lived in a small city and had only one other American to share the experience with. Everything from the language to the food to the social norms was unfamiliar; people stared at us wherever we went; and though I wouldn’t trade that year for the world, it was intensely isolating.

So I spent a lot of time feeling lonely, which at first also felt awful. Then I began to recognize loneliness. Then I realized that I was likely to survive it because, after all, it had happened before and I appeared to be OK. By the end of the year, loneliness and I established a familiarity, and when it came around, it was like opening the door to an old friend—oh, loneliness, hello, come on in, have a cup of tea.

Perhaps now I am beginning a familiarity the uncomfortable state of not knowing what comes next. Discernment—paying attention to where God or life is leading us—doesn’t generally happen on our timeline. Most things that come into being, from oak trees to humans to right action, seem to require some kind of gestation period, a process that this human is often impatient with.

But just as it’s much better for a baby to be carried to full term, so too with taking the next step. And just as it is not the most comfortable thing to carry that baby, so too with the next step.

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