After transitioning from high school to university in 2018, 2019 was a year of familiarity and steadiness. Where before I was navigating traffic, “stop starting” and not quite sure where I was going, 2019 was a year of cruising. Cruising to a destination I was sure I was supposed to be.
Bring on the summer of 2019/20. I didn’t know how deep I was in my comfort zone until change hit. The start of my first full time job, a change of house after 6 and a half years on the horizon and seemingly changing social dynamics among my friends.
Despite the fact I knew these were good changes, they were nonetheless disorientating. A friend summarised the feeling well when he said, “having so much going on all at once makes you feel you can’t get a breath of fresh air”.
At times it felt as if I was suffocating. Like I was fighting for breath and grasping onto any forms of familiarity. I’ve heard it said that change can be difficult, but I didn’t believe it until this summer.
The way I tried to deal with this discomfort was to not give myself permission to feel it.
You see, as a thinker, I often think that if I can ‘cover myself with enough truth’, I can convince myself to stop feeling a certain way.
So, with each wave of discomfort, my response would be to continually remind myself – no, forcefully remind myself – that this change is good, and I shouldn’t feel this way. My idea of resilience was supressing emotion instead of dealing with it.
Now that was half the problem. I wasn’t present with how I was feeling. Instead of allowing myself to experience these emotions and bring it to God, I tried to ignore them. I didn’t validate my own feelings.
I think this is a significant contributor to suffering in our modern world. Instead of giving others and ourselves freedom to feel, we attempt to shrug it off with rationale.
Mike Donehey gives a good example of when he was on tour and someone asked him how he was feeling. He said, “lonely and sad”. What was the other person’s response? “Oh no, don’t feel that way. We’re going to have a great show tonight”.
But Mike offers some great wisdom in his response. He replied by saying “hey, that’s ok. I’ve been away from my wife and kids for 4 days. If I didn’t feel sad and lonely, there would be an issue”.
Instead of trying to shrug off his feelings, he took time to understand them and deal with them appropriately. I’ve found the feelings pass faster and are more bearable when you confront them.
It comforted me knowing that even though Jesus knew that Lazarus would rise again, He still wept. He still experienced those painful emotions despite knowing all that truth (John chapter 11). We see a similar scenario played out the night before His crucifixion. He knew He would rise again, but still felt the despair and dread regardless (Luke chapter 22, verse 42).
So, I’m reminding myself it’s ok to feel uncomfortable, to experience difficulty. It doesn’t mean my faith is insufficient, it just means I’m human.
The sweetness will come
Going back to change, I was reassured knowing that the anxiety of the change and the discomfort doesn’t make it any less good.
Strahan Coleman captures this sentiment beautifully:
“Newness (change) is magnificent, refreshing and exciting. Its cool to the soul and brings new life to wounded places.
Newness is painful, destabilising and obscure. It creates discomfort where settling has occurred in our lives, forcing out the old stuff we’d become accustomed to.
If you continually pour new water into an already full glass the new and the old will mix up for a while before the fresh stuff eventually sieves out the old.
The change from stagnant to fresh isn’t instant, its unsatisfying like that. After the initial rush of cool water hitting the glass there’s a battle between comfort and risk, safety and adventure, familiarity and newness.”
Being forced out of our comfort zone can be hard, but it is essential if we are to grow. A quote from To Kill a Mockingbird has always stuck with me:
“It’s like bein’ a caterpillar in a cocoon, that’s what it is. Like somethin’ asleep wrapped up in a warm place”.
It’s so easy to stay in that warm place and to chose comfort. But, when we do this, we prevent ourselves from becoming all that He wants us to be. If we remain a caterpillar, we can never become that beautiful butterfly He destined us to be (poetic, I know).
“So, don’t be afraid if God came to your life with newness and then things got crazy. It’s the old making its way out, disorienting you.
The Spirit is making room in your life out of old things, and in just a moment all that will remain is the sweetness of a full resurrection”.
An encouragement to us all: keep persevering, the sweetness will come.
Matthew Thornton is studying at the University of Auckland, Matthew finds that writing is one of the prime ways he connects with and grows closer to God. He loves seeing the way in which God has wired everyone uniquely and finds immense fulfilment in seeing others discover who God is to them. He would love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org