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Embrace the Discomfort - March 31, 2021


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An Easter Message: Embrace the Discomfort

Posted on 29 March 2021, 9:54

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I had a “foolish” dream the other night.  I dreamt it was April Fool’s Day and I was pretending to be a priest or minister of some kind while giving a sermon for this coming Sunday, Easter Sunday. I remember thinking that the church hierarchy would not approve of one of those I was quoting, but I went ahead with it.  As near as I can remember, the sermon went something like this: 

I see a few young faces among those in attendance today but not nearly as many as I would like to see.  Nevertheless, my sermon today is primarily for you, the younger generation. At the same time, I hope the older folks will stay awake and ponder on what I am saying, keeping it in mind when attempting to offer guidance to their children, grandchildren, or other young people lacking experience in worldly ways. They seem to be more idealistic than earlier generations but not nearly as pragmatic.  But, of course, I’m being “old-fashioned.”

I don’t know how many times within the last year or two I’ve heard some young person say, “That makes me feel uncomfortable,” or “I’m not comfortable with that,” or some other declaration of discomfort, one that seems more feigned than real.  My response to all that is, “Get over it! Discomfort is a part of life’s learning experience. It’s good for you. May you be fortunate enough to feel more discomfort.”

Let me explain my response by suggesting to you that genuine discomfort is most often associated with adversity of some kind.  Call it hardship, difficulty, misfortune, grief, pain, whatever works for you.  If it’s pain, then it is only a very mild or moderate pain. The kind of discomfort suggested here falls well below the real pain threshold and might not even register on a zero to 10 gauge. It usually has to do with a disagreement. Let’s assume, however, that it’s real discomfort, not the feigned discomfort of some self-centered, know-it-all person, and that it does register on the pain scale. Call it an “affliction.” Here’s what the high spirit known as Imperator had to say about it: 


“It is necessary that afflictions come.  Jesus knew and taught that. It is necessary for the training of the soul.  It is as necessary as physical discipline for the body.  No deep knowledge is to be had without it.  None is permitted to scale the glorious heights but after discipline of sorrow.  The key of knowledge is in spirit hands, and none may wrest it to himself but the earnest soul which is disciplined by trial.  Bear that in mind.”

More recently, the late Dr. Elisabeth Kűbler-Ross wrote: 


“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”


And this, from one of our former presidents, Theodore Roosevelt:


“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life.  I have envied a great many people who had difficult lives and led them well.”

The bottom line here, as I see it, is that you should embrace that discomfort, not complain about it. Don’t wimp out. Don’t be a cream puff. You should dissect the discomfort and fully examine it, then figure out how it can help you grow spiritually.

Why is it that being “uncomfortable” is now such a common lament? I think I know.  It is because so many young people have been seduced by the entertainment and advertising industries, by Hollywood and Madison Ave. They have been led to believe that life is all about having fun.  Eat, drink, and be merry, and do it with many different partners. It’s about being self-absorbed in the pursuit of fun – not the pursuit of happiness.  Such a lifestyle lacks in commitment, morality, work ethic, and spirituality.  It results in people being less rugged than they were in the past, and so the discomfort threshold is significantly lower than it once was. A two-hour power outage is now a great discomfort to many – no phones, no computers, no television – whereas people once survived with no power at all.

In earlier years, the mass media was less hedonistic. Only in recent decades has it focused on having fun. I recall, not long ago, a dying man was interviewed on a popular television program.  He was asked what he would tell others battling terminal conditions.  “Live life to the fullest,” was his animated reply.  “Have Fun!!!”  He went on to describe the seemingly shallow and superficial ways he was having fun.  The program host and the audience all applauded and reacted as if the man had given sage advice.  I wanted to vomit.

Having fun when you know you are dying is not always as easy as some make it out to be.  In his 2016 New York Times best seller, When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi, a California neurosurgeon diagnosed with terminal lung cancer at age 36, addressed the “one day at a time” philosophy of the nihilistic humanist by saying that such an approach didn’t help him. “What was I supposed to do with that day?” he asked, pointing out that time had become static for him as he approached the end.  He considered more traveling, dining, and achieving a host of neglected ambitions, but he simply didn’t have the energy.  “It is a tired hare who now races,” he explained.  “And even if I had the energy, I prefer a more tortoise-like approach.  I plod, I ponder.  Some days, I simply persist.”

If we can’t deal with discomfort and the suffering it brings in our prime years, how can we possibly deal with it in our dying years?  Many people turn to drugs and alcohol because they didn’t learn how to deal with discomfort when they were younger. They were offended by being around someone who thought differently than they did, and, oh my gosh, it made them feel “terribly uncomfortable.” 

We’ve recently heard members of royalty complain about the difficulties of privilege.  It’s so tough and uncomfortable dealing with all that pomp, grandeur and luxury.  It sounds like it is even tougher than being homeless.  There appears to be a paradox there: the greater the privilege, the greater the hardships and discomforts.

Another lamentation I often hear these days is, “I deserve it.” However, I rarely, if ever, hear the person explain why he or she deserves it.  In most cases, the person seems to think it is deserved as some kind of birthright . I think they’ve been watching too many commercials.

According to child psychologist Dan Kindlon, as set forth in his book, Too Much of a Good Thing, modern parents are too indulgent with their children.  He says they give the kids too much and demand too little from them. When they are overindulged, Kindlon claims, the result is what amounts to the Seven Deadly Sins of religion: pride, wrath, envy, sloth, gluttony, lust, and greed, all of which are symptoms of narcissism.
 
A fairly recent book titled The Narcissism Epidemic, by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. and W. Keith Campbell, Ph.D., offers some interesting discussion on the narcissistic mindset. The two authors begin by stating that Americans are being persuaded that becoming more vain, materialistic, and self-centered is actually a good thing. “The narcissism epidemic has already had serious consequences,” they write. “First there has been a giant transfer of time, attention, and resources from reality to fantasy. Rather than pursuing the American dream, people are simply dreaming. Our wealth is phony, driven by credit and loose lending; this part of the narcissistic dream has already been dashed. Second, narcissism has corroded interpersonal relationships. There has been a switch from deep to shallow relationships, a destruction of social trust, and an increase in entitlement and selfishness.”

As Twenge and Campbell see it, religion has long been a deterrent to materialism and narcissistic behavior, but it has in some ways recently contributed to the narcissism problem. They point out that religions and volunteer organizations that aligned themselves with individualistic values have thrived, while those that have not have often withered. They note that some megachurch pastors, mentioning specifically Joel Osteen, pastor of the largest megachurch in the United States, stress self-love as a requirement to loving others, but they state that there is little evidence to support this idea and conclude that “loving yourself isn’t all that important for loving others.” 

Imagine, if you can, a world without discomfort, without pain, without suffering.  Might it not resemble the picture we have of Nero fiddling as Rome burned?  Is that our goal?  Don’t these superficial and frivolous “discomforts” we hear complained of so much these days suggest that we are approaching such a condition?

If it is genuine discomfort, then let’s grin and bear it, or, as suggested earlier, embrace it and learn from it. If it is fake discomfort, then wake up and face reality. Become more pragmatic. Let me end by again quoting Imperator:

“This is our Easter message to you.  Awake and arise from the dead.  Cast aside the gross cares of your lower world. Throw off the material bonds that bind and clog your spirit.  Rise from dead matter to living spirit; from earthly care to spiritual love; from earth to heaven.  Emancipate your spirit from earthly cares which are earth-born and unspiritual.  Cast aside the material and the physical which have been the necessary aids to your progress, and rise from engrossing interest in the worldly to a due appreciation of Spiritual Truth.  As the Master said to His friends, ‘Be in the world, but not of the world.’”

Next blog post: April 12

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
His latest book, No One Really Dies: 25 Reasons to Believe in an Afterlife is published by White Crow Books.

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