Recently I've heard a couple of teachers (on different, though related, subjects) say that, as adults, we do not learn from positive experience the same way we learn from painful experience.
At the same time, I've read and heard several times about how successful organizational (and personal) change is about building on strength and celebrating success, even small success.
And of course lots of what we know about children (and about animals, now that I think about it, haha) involves practicing positive reinforcement.
And yet there's something about change and transformation (two different things) that really do require us to face up to discomfort, and go through it, rather than avoid it.
Of course, avoiding discomfort is practically our culture's national pastime.
And yet pastors are taught that our job is to both comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable...because God's transformative work involves both.
So why do we insist that it only be comfortable? We want church to be warm and friendly, to meet our needs and to make us feel good. A moment of discomfort has us skipping the next few weeks, and pretty soon every time we come we're frustrated by something that's different, or challenging words, or the fidgety person in the next pew (whose fidgetiness we'd gotten used to when we sat there every week, but now that we're out of the habit, we just can't take one more moment of rustling the cough drop wrapper).
Why do we insist that the gospel be warm and friendly, when a straight-up reading of any one of the four accounts of Jesus' life will bring us up short?
Why do we insist that the Body of Christ give us warm fuzzies, when we know perfectly well that any human community, and any worthwhile relationship, requires work and compromise and continual hope, prayer, and effort?
One of my least favorite sporty sayings is "no pain, no gain." It feels like a fast track to getting injured, to ignore the pain signals my body is sending. I wonder if the saying is even true--is pain necessary for growth?
Well...Jesus talks about transformation with metaphors like pruning, refining fire, and death. So...maybe. As much as I don't want to think about it this way, the teachers who say that transformation--not just the change we make with our willpower, but the kind of transformation that comes from the Holy Spirit, the kind of transformation that lasts, the kind of transformation that makes us agents of the Kingdom--will hurt, at least a little (I mean, it might be stretching-hurt, it might be breaking-open-hurt, it might be grief-hurt)...they might be right.
Now to just trust that it'll be worth it.