My first experience with public speaking as an adult was in front of four-hundred people at an athletic banquet. I don’t remember what I said, but I am pretty sure it wasn’t that great and in my nervousness, I ended up calling a kid by the wrong name. Fortunately for him (not so much for me), his dad interrupted my talk to yell out the correction in front of the entire crowd! Needless to say, I was really uncomfortable. One of my close friends has since encouraged me to get in front of people and talk as much as I possibly could. He said it would be difficult and I would be anxious at first (clearly!), but eventually I would get better at it. I have learned a lot since then. It is hard for me to believe how much I enjoy speaking now, when I think back to the extreme discomfort I felt at that first event. Walking towardan area of lifethat made me uncomfortable has turned out to be extremely rewarding.
In my field over the last ten years, I have experienced firsthand how much we really try to shelter our children from being uncomfortable. We try to protect them from having to sit the bench, sweat too much, be embarrassed, or experience even the slightest discomfort. As a father of four, I know it is really tough sometimes to allow my own kids go through this stuff. I mentioned this to a pastor the other day who offered a pretty insightful diagnosis: it is not just the kids – parents don’t want to be uncomfortable! In our jobs, relationships and faith, we so often yield to the path of least resistance. The problem in each of these areas is the same; without discomfort, how do we grow? What does this have to say about our spiritual lives?
I realize that America is full of churches that draw huge crowds by making people feel comfortable about their situations. We preach a grape juice version of the Gospel. It is sweet, pleasant, makes us feel good about ourselves, and is really comfortable. That’s what I most often prefer to hear. We are taught to believe that faith is a philosophy that makes us happy; it is a system of rules to make us feel secure about our life and our world. We ignore the aspects of the Gospel that lead us down the road to sacrifice and, instead, embrace Jesus’ message as sort of a “10 Steps to a Better Life” guide. What happens then, when some poor preacher gets up and delivers the parts of the Gospel that are a little more fermented, intoxicating, and bitter than grape juice — the type of truth that makes us uncomfortable? Without being uncomfortable at times, how will we grow? I wonder if we don’t need to ask that very question of our church (and of ourselves).