These are also days of great possibility. For this is true: the more uncomfortable we feel, the more open we are to disrupting our usual ways of thinking. The potential for transformation is all around us in uncomfortable times if we use the gift of uncertainty and discomfort to help us get somewhere new.
But in order for that to happen, we’re all going to have to learn about getting more comfortable with being uncomfortable. Instead of just pining for a past that is no longer here or setting our hopes on a future that does not yet exist, we need to practice being present in this day and time, full of anxiety as it is.
Physical and emotional comfort is a luxury, a privilege that some rarely if ever experience. To have this kind of comfort, this quality of ease and restfulness, there has to be something going on in society that enables you to be at peace, to let down your guard. This kind of comfort loves the status quo and instinctively feels the threat of change because it might mean the loss of the very things that brought about the comfort.
But there is a different kind of comfort than we find in our idealized place of life going well. It’s the kind of comfort that is finding comfort in times of discomfort. This kind of comfort is a real strength. It’s a kind of comfort that we can find within that is not dependent on what’s happening around us. Even though the room is cold, the emotions raw, our uncertainty and self-doubt swirling madly in the air – with this kind of comfort we can stay present in a situation that we otherwise might run away from.
Katherine Johnson was a brilliant mathematician at NASA during the race to put John Glenn into space. She worked in an environment that was deeply uncomfortable because it was cruel. She had to take her coffee from a coffee pot labeled “Colored” that no one ever filled. She had to run a half mile to use the restroom because there was no “Colored Women’s Restroom” in the building where she worked. She was kept out of briefings that she needed to attend for her work. She had to leave her name off reports she helped complete.
But Katherine didn’t leave that room uncomfortable as it was to work there. Instead she stayed when others wanted her to leave. Instead of being silent, she voiced her needs. She stayed, she called for justice through her daily persistence of showing up and being seen, and slowly over time the room changed. The work for racial justice is far from over, but because of people like Katherine, change happened.
In these uncomfortable times I hear the Spirit calling us to go like Katherine did into uncomfortable places ourselves – to stay in conversations that we would rather leave, stay in the hard work of our own healing, stay in our work in broken institutions that we might otherwise give up on so that change can happen.
The first, the invitation to stay in the conversation. Everywhere we hear about the divided America. Who among us are called to be the listeners? Who among us are called to engagement with the ones we call “other”? How can we learn to listen to each other below all the noisy words with compassion? How can we seek deeper understanding – hearing what we perhaps don’t want to hear or know? How can we learn to put down our assumptions, our rightness, our egos and open ourselves to being with the other. To heal the world begins with the uncomfortable work of deep listening to the other. Such deep listening is a strength. It is valuing relationship despite differences. It is rising out of our hatred and quick judgment to meeting the other with whom we disagree as a person. It is foundational for the restoration of our humanity and building up of the beloved community.
The second, the invitation to know when to leave a conversation. When a relationship involves physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, the Spirit calls us to leave the relationship in order to heal ourselves. For some of us these days, it means intentionally turning off the news and focusing on the work of healing within. These are deep trigger times that are exposing deep and unhealed wounds in many – I see that all around. These uncomfortable times are essential times for us to begin to tend the wounds that are newly exposed. To heal the world begins with the uncomfortable work of healing ourselves.
Finally, the Spirit calls us to continue our work in broken institutions so that through staying there those institutions may be changed. The story of Katherine Johnson in the book and movie “Hidden Figures” shares one of those stories. To heal the world begins with the uncomfortable work of staying in the work to bring about change.
What enabled Katherine to stay in a highly uncomfortable workroom was her learned experience in living in a society that constantly made her feel unsafe, uncomfortable and unworthy. Because of her daily challenges, she drew upon the support of her friends, her church, her family. She was alone in that uncomfortable work environment and she was not alone. She had people she could get support from, who were Christ to her so she could stay in the room.
I believe that the Spirit today is calling us into rooms which we would rather leave. The Spirit is calling us, calling the church to walk deeper into connections, conversations that will make us uneasy, uncomfortable, facing realities that fill us with dis-ease. Situations where we may be afraid and anxious. We need each other so we can walk into this work.
As we practice staying in the uncomfortable places we are called it may be helpful for us to think about ourselves differently today – not as employees, leaders, parents, pastors with the delusion that we should have all the answers but as inventors – as explorers – trying to learn, to experiment with staying in the uncomfortable so we can do the work we are called to do today.
These are uncomfortable times and these are times full of the possibility of transformation. The way to that transformation is into the uncomfortable.
I hear the Spirit today calling us to go where we don’t want to go, to be changed from who we are into who we are called to be, to set out from the comfortable lives we have led into the uncomfortable places where the Spirit calls.
Let’s draw comfort in walking there together.