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Becoming Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

September 28, 2017 by Scott Lisea

My wife, Jamie, and I have fallen into a very comfortable Sunday morning routine before heading to church. We rise early; our Labrador, Henri Nouwen, brings us the newspaper; we brew good coffee; we sit next to one another under blankets reading the news and watching “CBS Sunday Morning.” It is cozy, peaceful, and comfortable. The last part of the ritual is that I ask Jamie what time our church service starts. I ask her every week. I know. . .I just like to ask her.

This past week, there was an inspirational story about Madonna on the televised news show. Not the Madonna, as in the mother of Jesus, but that Madonna, as in “Like a Virgin.” Apparently, that Madonna has adopted several children from Malawi and has now built a first-class children’s hospital there. It’s beautiful. In the interview, she talked about the virtue of being willing to become uncomfortable to help others. I have liked that idea for many years. I suppose I was surprised to find confirmation from this particular voice.

My appreciation for being comfortable being uncomfortable began when I first worked with students with disabilities. Opportunities for basic discomfort abounded. There were kids who drooled. Kids who were hard to understand. Kids who did not smell good. Kids who needed my help in the restroom. Then the discomfort went deeper: as I encountered my young friends’ unconditional acceptance and patience with me, I had to face my own internal emotional and spiritual disabilities. Had I not been willing to be uncomfortable, we all would have missed out on great relationships and opportunities to experience love and care—both the students and me.

Me canoeing the Colorado River, pulling up alongside Mrs. Penton, Mr. Rottman, and a student “Cleopatra.”

Last week at Providence was Upper School “Retreat Week.” The 7th and 8th grade teachers took their students on a retreat at Forest Home Camp in Ojai, where the senior served as counselors. Three high school teachers and I took the freshmen on a 30-mile canoe adventure down the southern portion of the Colorado River. Sophomores and juniors crossed the border to serve at Door of Faith Orphanage in Mexico. It is quite a week, and one of the most impressive things about it is the inspiring group of teachers who journey with, work alongside, and live with their students.


Before we all left, I sent the teachers this message:

Dear Upper School Team,

As we all head out in our various directions next week, I want to thank you for being the kind of people you are. It is truly unique that a faculty would take a week (out of the fall semester, no less!) to retreat with our students to pursue Christ alongside one another. It is one of our distinctives, and it is impactful.

It also is costly. Sure, it costs money and that is a real investment from parents and the school, but I’m talking about the cost that is reflected in bad sleep and uncomfortable moments. I want to thank you for being willing to be uncomfortable for the benefit of these young people we steward.

Becoming comfortable being uncomfortable is a beautiful, sacrificial way of being. But there is something valuable there for us. When we participate in this incarnational move downward (Really, who’s comfortable sharing a room with a middle school student? I’m not sure I was when I was one…) we participate with Christ. When we really enter the adolescent world and experience our own discomfort we identify with the very ones we serve, who at this age so often feel uncomfortable in their own skin.

So I just want to bless you as you prepare, and then as you suck it up and hang with your students. What a gift you will be—right there in their midst with them. I’ve always said that a week at camp is like a year of relationship. So bless you for going, and for going with an open heart. I pray that the Lord will break into your heart and my heart next week, even as we build blisters, sleep poorly, and bang our shins.

“We gave you our very lives…”

Playing like a kid in the river with freshman boys.

This idea of participating in an incarnational move downward really has my attention. When I am willing to go to those uncomfortable places, I am more pliable to God’s Spirit. I am more open to receive Him. The uncomfortable places present themselves as sleep deprivation, mosquitos, courageously trying to ply more than a one-word response from a freshman boy, or hard manual work alongside a sophomore girl who spills more paint than she applies. But there is something rich that happens when we go to those uncomfortable places. God honors that and then he goes to work in all our hearts.

Personally, I find the difficulty is that as we get older we more frequently seek to be comfortable. We are like my dog, Henri, who is in constant search of the softness of the couch or our memory-foam mattress. The longer we travel this earth the more we seek our own comfort.

I gain courage from the biblical character Caleb, who, in his old age, when they were dispensing the land grants of the Promised Land, asked Joshua, “Give me the hill country.” He asked for the hardest assignment, even in his old age. This is the guy, who in his youth, had the courage to go into the land as a spy, and see all the possibilities, instead of staring at the giants and obstacles therein.

Jesus, help us to be the kind of men and women who will follow you into being comfortable being uncomfortable.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).