An important aspect to recognize in our Lenten journey of metanoia (transformative change) and learning to stay awake is that there will be discomfort. We must learn to be ok with some discomfort if we want our lives to change.
The gospel reading from the first Sunday of Lent (Mt 4:1-11) describes Jesus’ temptation during his 40 days in the desert. Joan Chittister highlights how this reading “reminds us not to be surprised at our own struggle with the will to have power, the desire for things, the propensity for the morally malign – all of which threaten to deter our giving ourselves to the things that count in life. As Jesus triumphed over the seductions of the world and the limitations of being human, so must we.”
It’s unlikely that we will be tempted in the same way that Jesus was, but there will be temptations that “deter our giving ourselves to the things that count in life.” Last week I wrote about the need to identify what is most important to us and the challenge to consistently make time for these things, even when they don’t appear to be urgent.
As we start to pay attention to our daily choices and whether they reflect what is truly important to us, we will run into our own set of temptations. Temptations to stick with what we’ve always done. To stay in our established, comfortable routines. I’ve written about my desire to find comfort and joy in my life, but there is a danger in patterns that are too comfortable. Although helpful, routines can lead to putting parts of our lives on autopilot. We can become complacent. We can end up with certain parts of our lives being ignored or unexamined. We can become fixated on things happening at a specific time, in a particular sequence, and in a certain way. All of this prevents us from even considering if a routine is serving us or whether we’ve begun serving the routine.
I suspect that living through years of pandemic anxiety, restriction, and loss has diminished our ability to handle discomfort. We needed comfort and calm during the early days since we were surrounded by so much uncertainty. And many of us deliberately built that into our lives as much as possible. But now, we may have become stuck in those habits and routines, not noticing as we’ve grown stronger and more resilient.
Without us being aware of it, comfort can edge into complacency. And then complacency can take away the wonder and awe of life because our lives become habitual and our days the same. It can dull us into taking many things for granted and make us unable to see many blessings in our lives.
When we’re at this point, change is uncomfortable and difficult to initiate. So, if we want to change – to prioritize what is important to us now, to be more attentive to what we want and what is happening – we must be willing to practice some discomfort.
We don’t want everything in our lives to be uncomfortable, but assessing where you need a challenge is worthwhile. As we get older and at a point where we’ve achieved levels of success, we may have lost the propensity to challenge ourselves. There are fewer expectations from others that we’ll continue to change and grow in new ways. It’s not expected of us anymore, so it can be easy to let things slide and avoid the discomfort of change. But neuroscience research shows we’re able to change at any age! And the challenge of learning new things and pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone helps keep us young and engaged with life.
Lent gives us an opportunity to lean into discomfort. During Lent, the focus is on sacrifice, prayer, and giving. Deliberately practicing discomfort is a form of sacrifice and fasting. Rather than giving up chocolate, we’re willing to give up some of our habitual forms of comfort in order to be more fully awake to what is happening in our lives and what we are feeling. And be aware – this is a difficult thing to do! You might find it more challenging than staying away from chocolate.
Lent allows us to be attentive to what we now hunger for in our lives. We may have a spiritual longing that we haven’t acknowledged. Or we could feel that life has lost its sparkle and the days just run together. Now is an excellent time to challenge ourselves and experiment with some discomfort on the journey to becoming more awake.
Suggestions for Further Reflection
Over the next week, I invite you to experiment with discomfort. Here are some suggestions and thoughts to consider.
- Where might complacency be creeping into your spiritual life? Do you always pray the same way at the same time of day? Are you willing to brave a bit of discomfort and try something different for Lent, for this week, or just for today?
- A recent study found that actively seeking discomfort (rather than just tolerating it) and viewing it as a sign of personal growth can increase motivation to continue a new activity! Can you apply this technique to motivate you to step out of your comfort zone and try something new you are curious about?
- If you’ve decided to fast or sacrifice for Lent in some area of your life, you are likely already experiencing discomfort! Does it help to embrace the discomfort? Will the discomfort of the sacrifice make you more aware of and grateful for what you might have been taking for granted?
- Are there habits you developed during the past few years of the Covid pandemic that you have continued without evaluating whether or not this is still a good thing for you now?
God, sometimes life just feels so hard that I cling to my comfortable patterns of thinking and acting. Give me insight to objectively see these behaviors and faith to trust that I can deal with some discomfort in the pursuit of change.
Help me recognize opportunities to practice discomfort daily (because it’s inevitable that they will occur!). Remind me to be gentle with myself and help me find the edge of what discomfort I can handle – pushing myself so that I improve but not taking on so much that I give up.
As I struggle with my inevitable human desires for more possessions, for comfort, and for security, give me the graces I need to make changes. The grace of humility – to know that I’m just human and You continue to love me as I am. The grace of steadfastness – to help me persevere in my discomfort as I make positive changes and become more aware and awake. And the grace of knowing Your presence is always with me, picking me up when I fall and giving me strength to try again.
Chittister, Joan. The Liturgical Year. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009.
A summary of the study linking discomfort to personal growth can be found here.
So this old dawg can learn new tricks? I believe that. I also believe that giving up chocolate can be done in parallel with self-awareness, esp when I reflect on the reason behind my dependence on chocolate, what void it’s actually filling. I don’t believe it’s an either / or choice. Maybe that chocolate is, as you said, a “habitual form of comfort.”
Good point. You have an excellent example of how giving up chocolate can be done in parallel with developing more awareness.
You always ask the best questions. Thank you again.
You’re welcome! I’m happy that the questions resonate with you and are helpful!
Cathy, Choosing discomfort is eye opening for me and my son. We are both dealing with challenges right now. Learning to embrace discomfort is a positive direction to go. Running away from discomfort will send us in the wrong direction of want we want. Thank you for this new perspective! We will embrace discomfort in a new way!!!! Deb and Adam Hunt.
I admire the courage of both of you in being willing to try embracing discomfort. It’s not an easy thing to do!