It’s good to be uncomfortable

When I was a little kid (8 or 9 years old), I took piano lessons. My mom is a really accomplished musician, and she wanted me and my brother to be comfortable with music. I liked piano, and I was pretty good at it, but I lacked the discipline to really practice, which is what eventually led me away from music as a potential career. But during the years that I played, my mom always set up a series of recitals for us.

I hated recitals. I hated getting up in front of people. I hated knowing that people were watching me. I hated the possibility that I would make a mistake and look like a fool. But my mom insisted that I do them, even though I hated them, because it was good for me. If I had never gotten up in front of people, I would have missed out on some really important lessons that I’ve needed in life. I needed to know how to present myself to people. I needed to know how to be professional in front of an audience.

Honestly, I needed it more than I ever could have imagined. This coming Saturday, I’ll be up in front of a crowd reading from my latest novel. Believe me, I’ll be drawing on some of the things I learned during those dreaded piano recitals.

I didn’t like them. They were the last thing on earth that I wanted to do. But I needed them, because if I’d stayed comfortable in my little introverted shell, I would never have learned what I needed to know.

4K2VPPOSR1Today’s verse is Joshua 1:9.

This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

I think this may be a verse I’ve said to myself more than any other verse. I put myself in these uncomfortable situations, and while it’s important for me to be there, I don’t want to be there. I’m scared. I feel inadequate. I feel like anyone else would be better suited to the job than me. But it isn’t anyone else there. It’s me.

God has specific things for me to do, and He wants me to be courageous in how I do them. That means pressing forward when I don’t know how to do something. That means having enough humility to ask for help when I’m stumped. That means trusting other people to know the right decision when I don’t.

Fear keeps me rooted in place, and that’s not the life God has for me. Insecurity keeps me silent when God is telling me to speak up. That isn’t what God has called me to. I’m supposed to live victoriously. I’m a conqueror. More than a conqueror, the Bible says. So what am I doing cowering in the corner when God’s already won the battle for me?

I can’t go far enough away to escape God, even if I wanted to. He’s always with me, so why do I insist on being afraid? My silly fallen nature, I guess.

So what is it that God wants to teach you? Everyone has something. We all have a lesson we’re in the middle of learning, and take it from someone who knows, most lessons aren’t fun. Most lessons mean you have to get uncomfortable, and we live in a world that tells us to get comfortable. Our culture tells us to find where we are happy and stay there and never push the edges and never challenge the status quo. And that kind of living is fine if you want to stay the way you are. But I don’t.

I want to grow. I want to know God better, deeper, more than I did yesterday, and I can’t do that by standing still. My faith can’t grow if I don’t challenge it, and I can’t challenge my faith by only doing the things I’m comfortable doing.

So I’m going to get uncomfortable. How about you?

The Asthmatic Mountain Climber’s Guide to Life

I’ve never been mountain climbing. Not really. Considering that I have a hard time breathing when I even cross the state line into Colorado, climbing up on top of a mountain is probably not the smartest thing for me to do. I’d probably be so oxygen deprived that I’d make a stupid mistake and fall off the edge.

I have, however, been on a mountain hike before. And I hated it. Not that I didn’t love the scenery; it was beautiful. And not that I didn’t love the company; they were my best friends and the youth group I grew up with. I just couldn’t breathe. And breathing is kind of essential, no matter what you’re doing.

We were at a camp in Colorado, and yes it was beautiful, but the camp up there was psycho. I’m going to avoid names because probably some people have been to this camp, and they probably adored it. I didn’t think much of it, mainly because no one at the camp seemed to even believe that I had a respiratory problem and they took my inhaler away from me and I spent most of the week there unable to breathe. (They even made me play one of the games that entailed running around in the woods, and even when I actually did pass out and skin my knees all up, they still wouldn’t give me my inhaler to use.)

I mean, I was glad that I went to camp. I had never been before (and I never went again, to be honest), but I know I probably learned some valuable lessons about life (kind of the same lessons I learned from my first year in college). I will say, though, that I think back on that mountain hike a lot. The counselors pretty much rounded us all up and herded us up the mountain like a pack of sheep or cows or something. We didn’t have a choice. We had to go.

And I didn’t want to. But the counselors were my authorities, and I always tried to submit to my authorities even when I was a kid. And I knew I would be in trouble about halfway through the hike because they had taken my inhaler away and wouldn’t let me have it. But I went without a fuss because it was the right thing to do (this would be a good post about how authorities need to be responsible for the lives of the people they lead, but that’s totally a topic for another time).

I remember hiking up that mountain. It started out okay, but the higher we got, the harder the hike became. The rocks got looser, and the path disappeared. My lungs stopped working, pretty much, and I was having to take breaks after a couple of feet (remember that, Carrie?). I remember being dizzy and lightheaded, and I couldn’t enjoy the scenery around me because I was so focused on staying upright. But I took it slow (and my wonderful friends all kept coming back to check on me because they all just rock like that) and I eventually made it up to the top of the mountain. And, yes, the view was beautiful, but the journey back down was just as much trouble as the journey to the top. Actually more. Because going down, you are threatened to let yourself run, and my legs were already shaking so badly that running would have been a really awful idea. But we did it. We made it down to the bottom of the mountain and got water to drink, and I sat still and forced my lungs to work as best they could.

I’ve been thinking about that mountain hike a lot in the last month.

I am so overloaded with work, I can’t even express how much there is to do. And it keeps coming. And I can’t help feeling like I’m in the middle of that mountain hike with no inhaler, the path stretching onward and upward out of sight and I have no strength to keep following it, but I have to keep going because it’s the right thing to do.

It’s discouraging. It’s beyond discouraging. It’s the darkest, saddest feeling in the world, knowing that you’ve done your very best to achieve something and that you can’t make any progress either because you’re too weak or the task that’s been given to you is too big.

That’s why I love this verse.

Joshua 1:9

9 This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

 Joshua had a huge task in front of him. Much larger than a mountain hike. Much larger than a pile of work at a job. He had to lead the people of Israel in war. How overwhelming would that have been? And to have to fill the shoes of Moses? And the people of Israel had already prove to be the most difficult people in the world to lead. But God told him to be strong and courageous. God told him not to be afraid or to get discouraged, because God would be with him wherever he went.

I have to relearn this every morning, it feels like.

I have too much to accomplish on my own. I think that’s the point. I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We all have things in our lives that overwhelm us, things that are too big for us to handle on our own, but we have to realize that God is with us wherever we go. Whether it’s at the bottom of a mountain, at the top of it, or struggling on the way up (or the way down). He’s there. And there’s nothing that He can’t handle.

I’m not saying that the hike won’t still be hard. And it will probably intensify in difficulty before you get to the top or the bottom. But you won’t fail. Not if you let Him help.

Do your best. Keep working as hard as you can. Keep breathing. Keep climbing. And don’t worry about the rest. I honestly think that’s what God means when He says to let Him help.  Do your best. Do the best you can. And trust that He can work out the details of what you can’t do.

Even if God has you climb a mountain without your inhaler, He’ll always give you the strength to succeed . . . even if you have to take baby steps and a lot of rest breaks. And when you get back down to the bottom of the mountain, you’ll be able to look back and you’ll be able to see that He kept His promise. That He never left you. Not once. And the next time a mountain comes along your path, it will be much easier to climb.