Embracing the “Discipline of Disturbance”

discipline of disturbanc (rotate)A recent meeting (focused on the promise and potential of disorienting-transitional moments) directed me to a book by Dr. Hud McWilliams, entitled Discipline of Disturbance: Stop Waiting for Life to be Easy.  Some title, huh?   I have yet to really dig in but early gleanings may suggest that it’s exactly what this soul needs (maybe what we a lot of us need) – not just at this juncture of Lent but at this juncture of the ”wilderness” into which we have all been plunged (during these days of quarantine and physical distancing).  (Here, I am grateful to my extrovert friend, Rev. Vickie Simons, who rightly distinguishes between “social distancing” from “physical distancing” — so that we can respect physical distancing without becoming socially distant!)

Writes McWilliams, early on…

The process of growing into wholeness is messy and brings its own discomfort. Deep in the psyche of the first-world [or American] perspective, it seems that our built-in urge to grow is stalled by the more immediate desire to be comfortable, to be safe, to be sure and certain. In other words, we want to be in control no matter what it costs us. And as we will see, it costs us dearly.

When the pursuit of comfort determines how we live, a move to grow toward wholeness will merely be tolerated and endured (perhaps in the wake of crisis). But it will not be sought out. And even when we experience a moment of genuine growth toward maturity due to loss, grief, betrayal, or some other setback, we hope the process of growth will soon be over. We want more than ever to return to the seeming ease of being in control of our life. We want to complete the process of suffering so we can put it behind us and return to the patterns and routines that pass for safety and comfort.

We are driven to resolve issues, and usually, it’s a good thing to want closure. When you sign up to take a class, you want to complete it. When you enter a race, you want to cross the finish line. However, this mindset overlooks the fact that we are alive. As long as we are alive, things can’t be finished. There is no endpoint. There is no graduation ceremony that certifies we have arrived. Living things always are growing. If they are not growing, they are dead.

Growth is a reality, while quick resolution remains a tantalizing fiction. We create our own confusion when we overlay the idea of completion on organic growth.

–Hud McWilliams, Discipline of Disturbance: Stop Waiting for Life to be Easy, (pp. 16-18)

Here, McWilliam’s words and thesis are fitting complements to some of the other spiritual formation discussions we’ve been about at Zoe-Life Explorations.

  • Most immediately, I am drawn to the [true] story of the Associate Pastor who was reprimanded for a Mother’s Day prayer (inclusive of all forms of being/having a mother and not being/having a mother) – a prayer that did not hit the mark of making everyone feel good.  (To engage that post, click here.)
  • More fully, though, “stage of faith” discussions come to mind – especially as they are illuminated by Janet Hagberg’s Critical Journey.  Among the dynamics she spotlights are the ways that – whether out of comfort or a fear of change — we can (and do) get stuck or caged at each level of our spiritual development.  It’s especially pronounced at a key juncture halfway the spiritual journey of a lot of folks called the “Wall.”  It’s not just a hard time in life that constitutes a “Wall” experience.  But, it’s a hard time in which the solutions and “answers” of former stages feel empty.  It can be a real time of conversion and renewal in a person’s life and faith – so long as they don’t run away from it.  The problem is (and here, McWilliams quote asserts itself): a lot of folks do run from the Wall.  That, or their churches are hard pressed to help people at the Wall – as they themselves perpetuate (and baptize) the cultural myth that life is all about comfort and safety and certainty.  (See related review of article from Pastor David Terpstra at Christianity Today by clicking here.)

Maybe instead of running from the “Walls” of life and living–
maybe instead of enthroning control and comfort in our lives,
we should see and embrace
disturbance and disorientation
for the things that they are or could/should be:
reminders that we are living organisms
(able to respond but not in control)
whose growth and maturation
demand change and promise “growing pains.”

Maybe,
instead of seeing disturbance and disorientation
(and this Lenten “wilderness” we’ve all been thrust into)
as the enemies of happiness and living,
we should see them as the standard features of life that they are–
embracing the lessons they promise to provide
to those who don’t run away.

2 thoughts on “Embracing the “Discipline of Disturbance”

  1. Bob Thomas says:

    Reinventing our former comforting corporate life several times over these last 21 years has been a faith awareness journey of true growth and joy. Thanks be to God for walking us through an unimaginable transformation and all the experiences, friendships and fond memories we might have missed.

    • Jim Reiter says:

      Great word, Bob… taking words that can sound so negative (“distrubance” and “discipline”) and casting the positive and promise of this discussion!

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