By the time I left Lynchburg last Friday afternoon, there was so much swirling around in my head and so much weighing on my heart – in a good way. That was probably the most tiring week I’ve had in awhile but at the same time, all the fatigue came at the cost of peace. I was asked to be extremely vulnerable, not just in my willingness to learn and be self aware in regard to the counseling techniques we were learning but also in my ability to lay pieces of my life out for others to hear and help me unpack some things. That alone was worth all the anxiety I was experiencing leading up to last week.
So many things were said that still stick out to me:
“Lean in to the discomfort.”
“Learn to be comfortable with silence.”
“In counseling, many times things will get worse before they get better.”
“The presenting problem is rarely ever the problem.”
“Everything is grist for the mill.”
All of these apply to what we will experience within the counseling relationship but their applicability to real life situations can’t be denied. So much within me resonated with what I was being taught and what I was being advised on. But there was one thing that was said that really has had me thinking and has helped me change my outlook on life right now.
“It sounds like this time is maybe an invitation to painful comfort.”
This was my professor’s response to a mock client. Painful comfort. How does that even make sense?! It’s quite contradictory but so has my life been for the past year and some change. Perhaps that’s why it resonated within me so much. This…painful comfort…is akin to knowing that where you find yourself in life right now has a purpose although the entire process is painful and unsatisfactory. The pain is because it requires so much out of you and you’re so frustrated that nothing seems to be happening the way you think it should happen. The comfort is drawn from the fact that, no matter how mad you are about where you are, you can still look around and see signs that God has not abandoned you where you are and that maybe, just maybe, it’s not that He has you stuck in this place but that He has placed you there. Being stuck and being placed are two different things with different objectives. Many times we feel like we’re stuck in places because perhaps our actions did initiate our journey to these places but we forget about the God who still causes all things to work together.
There have been so many times when I’ve said to myself “If I had only…” then I wouldn’t be “stuck” where I am right now. “If I had never resigned from my good job to move to Dallas…”, “If I had only moved to Atlanta a few years ago…”, “If I had not wasted time in a degree program that I didn’t like…”, “If I had been more open to (this)…” We tend to think of our lives in terms which exclude our consideration in God’s ability to work any and every situation in a way that can produce water from a rock.
There has not been one person on this earth who hasn’t had a rough patch and honestly, there are some rough patches that all the hustling, moving, grinding, praying, and fasting can’t bring you out of fast enough. We like to convince ourselves that all we have to do is bury our heads deeper in the ground and that will make everything OK but life doesn’t always reciprocate what you put in. Yeah I know…we don’t like to think of it that way. But there are times in our lives that are specifically designed to test our resolve or what we Christians refer to as faith. Specific time periods are meant to grow us in ways that sunshine 24/7 can’t. Flowers don’t just grow because the sun shines on them; they need the rain too or they will either never grow or they die prematurely. This is where the comfort in the pain lies – that wherever I find myself does not have to be my focus if I truly understand where I’m going. It’s easy to be frustrated on where you are, where you’re stuck, or even where you’re placed, but the beauty is when I can focus on what being here is doing to improve my future, whether it be financially, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, etc.
can’t shouldn’t ask God to grow us and then buck up against the growing mechanism. (Un)fortunately, we don’t get to choose that. What we do get to choose is whether we trust God enough to endure the process. We can choose this invitation to painful comfort or we can decline it but I should be clear that either way, the lessons must be learned.
So once I heard this, my outlook brightened a bit about where I am. Some things that I was stressing myself out striving for (I even bust a blood vessel in my left eye…smh), I loosened the grip a little bit and tried to open my eyes and ears to how this season can be a blessing in ways I had not perceived previously. This has not been a seamless shift in perspective and I’ve found myself daily fighting against here. But since last Thursday, two words have come to mind and that has helped center me. Painful comfort.