Several weeks ago, while preaching on a parable of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke, I referenced a phrase I said had become meaningful to me: “Discomfort is a teacher.”
I had read the phrase in some commentary or other on yet another passage from Luke, but it had remained with me: “Discomfort is a teacher.”
The commentator used the phrase to encourage us, the hearers of Christ’s words, not to simply dismiss those words which make us uncomfortable. In the parable I mentioned from Luke 14, Jesus advises us to extend our hospitality and resources towards those who can never repay us; certainly difficult advice to hear or to act upon.
We are very comfortable giving and returning hospitality and generosity amongst our own social set; to intentionally go beyond that group to connect with those who cannot or will not ever return the favor — who may never even acknowledge our effort or thank us — is certainly setting the bar high, which Jesus does so often in the Gospels. He asks a great deal of us, and he often makes us uncomfortable.
Each of us, whether we realize it or not, likely has a mental list somewhere of “things we wish Jesus had never said.” Did he really say that the poor are blest and the rich are not? Did he seriously ask us to love our enemies? Does he really mean that we should associate with those others avoid at all costs, just as he did?
So much that Jesus did or said makes us uncomfortable. And it’s so easy to just dismiss or ignore those passages.
That’s why I found this particular phrase, “Discomfort is a teacher," to be such a wise reminder to me. When something in Scripture makes me uncomfortable, perhaps that is the very moment at which I might learn something new, even if something challenging or difficult.
And I believe this mantra extends truthfully to life beyond our study of Scripture. My husband and I are about to take a long-awaited trip to Europe. We are very excited!
And we are also anxious and uncomfortable. What will that long plane ride be like? How will it be to not speak the language? What if we get sick or injured while abroad? What it our lodgings turn out to be less-than-desirable?
Any new journey upon which we embark involves discomfort; that’s just the reality of living. But that discomfort is a teacher for us; we can learn something in dealing with our anxieties, even if what we learn is that we need to grow further in trusting God’s Spirit to be with us, where ever we may be.
There are news stories that make us uncomfortable; that doesn’t mean we should pretend they’re not real. There are people who make us uncomfortable; that doesn’t mean we should act as though they’re not there.
Discomfort is a teacher. What might God show us through our encounters that cause us discomfort?
As a new school year begins and a new program year starts up in our congregations, we will likely all find ourselves in some uncomfortable places. Both students and teachers must adjust to a more rigorous schedule after a summer break.
Churches may be starting up programs in education, music, outreach and stewardship that seem to ask more of us than happened during the summer, when so many are elsewhere, our congregational efforts tend to be less demanding.
But discomfort is a teacher, and God has plans for each of us and our congregations, plans that will teach us and bless others. Even and especially in uncomfortable times, God leads, inspires and teaches us.
Pastor Susan lives in Duluth and is the Pastor at Knife River Lutheran Church, a congregation that practices excellent hospitality and serve delicious food.