Falling in love took me 28 years. I had dated before, but this was different. He and I had one of those stories, which began with a message from a friend three years earlier: “My roommate thinks you’re beautiful.”
I didn’t even know who his roommate was. Months later I would meet him, in Paris, except I would have completely forgotten that conversation by then. A few years after that, he would get up the nerve to ask me out.
Our relationship was a whirlwind romance. I thought we would get married, and I was comfortable with that idea. Then one day — February 19, to be exact — he called and ended it all. Having just celebrated Valentine’s Day with a dozen roses and a heartfelt message from him telling me how much he missed me, the breakup came out of nowhere.
In its wake, familiar insecurities began to overtake me like a second skin. Rejection floated over me like a dark cloud. My comfortable path was suddenly … well, uncomfortable.
A Girl’s Best Friend
I have long had a fascination with jewels. As a little girl, I would sit on the floor of my mom’s walk-in closet, watching her get ready for a night out. My tiny hands would try on each and every piece of “precious” jewelry. I have always loved treasures like diamonds and pearls, and I longed for the day I would possess my own beautiful treasures.
As I grew older, I wondered about what made these glistening objects so valuable. I did a bit of research and was surprised by what I learned. From a website that sells pearls:
Natural pearls form when an irritant — usually a parasite and not the proverbial grain of sand — works its way into an oyster, mussel, or clam. As a defense mechanism, a fluid is used to coat the irritant. Layer upon layer of this coating, called ‘nacre,’ is deposited until a lustrous pearl is formed.
Similarly, though the exact details are unclear, scientists believe natural diamonds began as carbon dioxide buried some 100 miles into Earth. It was then heated to about 2,200 degrees F while undergoing 725,000 pounds of pressure (per square inch) over many years until it rushed to the Earth’s surface to cool.
Pearls and diamonds — both begin as nothing, but when pressure, heat and time are applied, they become beautiful gems. Both must be placed in uncomfortable situations for their purpose and value to be revealed.
Sounds a bit like my life.
Life Upside Down
Back in September I was getting ready to move to a new country and begin an exciting new job. Then all of a sudden, I wasn’t. Life turned upside down once again. What would the future hold? What do I want? How will this detour affect the course of my life?
At 33, I have many goals I want to achieve. Admittedly, in uncomfortable moments, my faith sometimes takes a beating. Remaining close to God when life is not what I expected isn’t easy. As I considered my future and what this season looked like, my mom said something that caught my attention. “You’re meant to live an uncomfortable life because the uncomfortable propels you toward your destiny.”
This is not the first uncomfortable season I’ve experienced. I know it won’t kill me. I even recognize the good discomfort has done me along the way. Living with various tensions in my life has stretched me in ways that I wouldn’t have been stretched otherwise.
When you think about it, being comfortable rarely gets us anywhere. I doubt we would have electricity if someone hadn’t gotten tired of wasting a lot of time and money on wax, oil and the subsequent cleanup. Even women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement were born out of uncomfortable — even unbearable — circumstances.
None of us wants to live in constant uncertainty or frustration, but when we embrace the uncomfortable, whether it’s in the everyday tasks or in the big decisions, we move closer to our purpose. Discomfort not only draws us closer to God, but it also draws us closer to our purpose. I think we can learn a few things from the diamond- and pearl-making processes.
Embrace the irritant. Just like with a pearl, sometimes a bit of debris or sand gets into our lives. Rather than simply rejecting it, we can embrace it.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul speaks of his “thorn in the flesh,” put there to remind him of the Lord’s strength and his own weakness. Rather than asking, “Why me?” when life gets uncomfortable, we can ask the Lord what He wants to teach us in this season and how we can get closer to Him.
I have found that when something is irritating me, often a deeper issue is at play. Right now, life isn’t comfortable as I transition from living abroad in Europe to potentially staying in North America.
Living in limbo, without my own home and not sure where I’m headed next, gets old fast. It can be aggravating to meet people and not know whether to commit to friendship. Recently, I was talking to a potential date. When I mentioned that I was in transition our conversation ended abruptly. Instead of living in the frustration of that, I try to step back and ask God to work on the root of what is irritating me.
Take the heat and accept the pressure. Whether you’re waiting on God for something you desire or simply making it through the day, it is easy to just go through the motions and avoid the fire that will strengthen your faith and refine you. Instead of trying to put out the fire or avoid it, you can embrace the heat, allowing God to change you through it.
Similarly, pressure can hurt. It can also push us to God. Hudson Taylor famously said: “It does not matter how great the pressure is. What really matters is where the pressure lies — whether it comes between you and God, or whether it presses you nearer His heart.”
Sometimes it’s only in discomfort that we develop intimacy with our Creator who knows our purpose and is shaping us accordingly. We can also be comforted, knowing that in our weakness and inadequacy, His strength is made perfect. (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Dive deep into community. When I broke up with my ex, I didn’t have much of a problem running to God. But I hesitated in being vulnerable to other people. I did not want to show the pain I was experiencing or share my anxieties.
But in times of discomfort, we need to go deep with those we can trust. I think of the account in Acts 2 that talks about the early church and how they met together and everyone’s needs were met. When we embrace our Christian community, we allow others to lift us when we don’t have the strength to lift ourselves.
Beauty in the Struggle
In times that are frustrating, awkward or simply not meeting my expectations, I’ve found that it helps when I stop focusing on the problem, or problems, and let the grace of God be enough.
Regardless of how uncomfortable my situation may be, I can always come to God’s throne boldly. He will relieve the pressure, help with the irritants, and ensure that the heat and pressure do their good work. It doesn’t mean my discomfort will go away — grace isn’t fairy dust — but I can trust that God is making something priceless out of the struggle.
Copyright 2017 by Michelle Plett. All rights reserved.