What is the most important choice you’ll ever make? Is it your friends? Your college? Your job? Your spouse? Which home to buy or which church to go to? And what if it’s none of the above? What if the most important choice you’ll ever make is whether or not to feel uncomfortable?

courage

Photo Credit: Merrick Brown via Compfight cc 

When you uproot your family and move to a new town, life is full of firsts.

First trips to the new grocery store. First time the air conditioner comes on. Or doesn’t. First winter fire in the new fireplace. First sooty smell that won’t go away the next morning. First time cleaning out the fireplace to get rid of said sooty smell. First time—unlike the old fireplace—that embers stayed hot enough overnight to set the vacuum filter on fire. First time throwing burning appliance parts into the first snow of the year.

But not the first time exclaiming, “I’m so sick of firsts! I want familiar back!” as I log on to Amazon to purchase my first bottle of odor neutralizer.

I’m sick of firsts because I’m sick of discomfort. And that’s a problem, because choosing discomfort is the most important choice any of us will ever make.

What We Avoid

Uncertainty. Confusion. Mistakes. Unknowing.

Most of us avoid them like the plague, because they don’t feel good. Which is why we are so enamored of habits and routines. We even prefer bad habits and boring routines to the discomfort of the new and all the firsts that come with it.

Learning on the go can get awfully messy,  so we develop images of our selves and we hold onto them with superhuman tenacity. We draw conclusions about other people, and nothing short of a miracle can convince us we might be wrong about them. If a new experience of something or someone shakes up our worldview a little bit, we scramble like mad to get familiar back. We preserve our certainty with fierce determination. We choose the comfort of what we think we know.

Because the unknown is terribly uncomfortable.

And the point of life is to feel good, right? To be comfortable. At ease. Confident. Like we basically know what we’re doing. That’s healthy, right?

Unfortunately, no, it’s not.

But how do we learn to tolerate the tension of uncertainty?

What We Need

It’s later in the evening, the smell of a burning vacuum cleaner still hasn’t dissipated completely, and I’m putting my oldest son to bed. It’s been a rough night. I’m fatigued by the frustration of so many firsts. I never really shook my irritability about ruining the vacuum and never really shook my shame about making so many mistakes. And I think my son took the brunt of it.

Heated words had been exchanged.

Now, I’m tucking him into my bed with bedtime prayers, and I find myself praying these words, “We ask for patience with each other, because this is my first time being a dad, and this is Aidan’s first time being a son, and we’re figuring it out as we go.” I hear myself speaking, and it feels like the words aren’t mine. They’re a gift. And it is the grace I needed.

You’re doing it all for the first time, Kelly.

Parenting. Marriage. Raising a family. Friendship. Owning a business. Maintaining a blog. Writing a book. All of it. All of life is a first. Even if you’ve done something before, you’ve never done it now, on this day, feeling this way, in these conditions, with these particular limitations and advantages. Let that awareness be grace. Let it be a peace that surpasses all understanding. Let it be the seed of kindness, toward yourself and everybody else. And let it be just enough to help you tolerate the discomfort of being fully alive.

Sometimes I wonder if my prayers change anything.

Well, that one changed me.

And What It Can Do To Us

It’s totally okay to be confused. It’s perfectly normal to feel uncertain. We get to make mistakes. We have permission to be turned around and flipped upside down. Because every day is the first time. Every look in the mirror. Every step outside the door. Every conversation. Every disclosure. Every project. Every responsibility. Every decision. Every choice.

Let it be uncomfortable.

And then let it change you from the inside out.

Let the freedom it brings open up new vistas, launch you on new journeys, expand your ability to love, revolutionize your capacity for seeing yourself and others with grace, send you in the direction of your passion, and turn your life into a series of uncomfortable firsts, which refuse to leave you the same, which insist upon making you humbler, more open to mystery, more certain you are in control of almost nothing, and more open to what is.

Even if you end up starting a few fires along the way.

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Dr. Kelly Flanagan

Dr. Kelly Flanagan

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist, practicing at Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives at DrKellyFlanagan.com. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again.

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Dr. Kelly Flanagan
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