What does discontent mean to you? Is it an impulse to be ignored, or perhaps a friend to be welcomed and led into your living room? I’d love to sit with you for a bit to share with you my newly expanding awareness of and friendship with discontent. But first, a quick recap of my internal narrative this fall, the backdrop to my dance with discontent:
Cycles of anger, disbelief, heartbreak. Children detained at the border. Deplorable conditions of HHS detainment facilities. Recurrent news. A restless heart. But who am I?
And then. A weekend away. A time of quiet prayer. A clear invitation to release. Sitting in the sifting, opening anxiously tensed fingers, letting the excess fall to the ground. A space inside. A posture of waiting, ready for infill. Next, even more surprising, a clear call. Remembering God’s faithfulness. Transfer your faith to this also. The same Father is here; the same Guide is faithful, capable.
Rise up, O mothers. We can’t allow this on our land, on our watch, while we have breath. Rise up daughters, sisters, wives–husbands, brothers, fathers, too. These children and their families are waiting.
Lean into this need. Ask and you shall receive. Wisdom. Guidance. A path. A team. Resource. Strength. Time. Allow Me. I am sifting, I am preparing, I am calling, I am equipping.
A phone call to a mentor reveals, “This is holy discontent. It echoes the timely concerns I’ve heard from others. This is no accident. Pray and call, read and research. We will meet. We will join forces. We will act.”
Evicting Unwelcome Guests, Welcoming the True Friend
In the past, I’ve rejected the notes of discontent that played somewhere deep down in me. I subconsciously categorized them as spiritually unhealthy or unhelpful.
Holy discontent is something different than a selfish lust for more. Holy discontent can lead to the most necessary moments of deconstruction and reconstruction of reality as we know it, a just response to human crisis, the deeper understanding of foundational truth and the refusal to continue to maintain a surface commitment to a cause or faith.
As I’ve begun to invite discontent to come do its active work in me, I’ve had to first excuse some unwelcome visitors in my soul. I refuse to listen to shame; he is a liar. Discontent can remind me that all is not well in me or in my world. And that can trigger shame. But just because we’re now called to something more, something different, doesn’t mean we have failed irreparably in the past. Confess, lay down what no longer serves, and move forward. Do not let regret or shame disqualify you, allow the lesson of failure to be your teacher.
In this work of welcoming discontent, I’ve also had to refuse to succumb to self-doubt, disbelief, and denial.
Did God really say that?
Is more really possible?
Who am I to think I could do something so audacious, so out there, so dramatic to address a local wound, a national crisis, a complex world issue?
These questions of doubt are as old as time, and they tend to arise at points of the story when the most is at stake.
Reading the Signs
Discontent is a signal to pay attention. To follow a trail. To step back and consider where else you’ve seen this theme arise before. To pray, ask, wait in quiet, and explore. To share with trusted friends who won’t let you forget the burning questions, this sense that all is not right and something must change.
Ruth Haley Barton writes: “The ability to recognize desire and longing is the beginning of the spiritual journey because it opens up the possibility of choosing to order our lives more intentionally around what it is that our heart most wants. As we become quieter on the inside we will become more aware of our deepest longings, and if we allow ourselves to become more aware, we can eventually make choices that are more congruent with our heart’s deepest longings. Experiences of desperation…can also motivate us to order our lives in ways that will move us towards wholeness.”
Welcome the restlessness. Godly sorrow and holy discontent are friends. I am learning to embrace them, sit with them, be quiet and listen as long and often as I need, for I need to be remade. I am not the first to arrive on scene. Lord give me an open, spacious heart to absorb the richness of capacity of those in this work and the depth of need of those most affected.
How can you begin to welcome discontent as a teacher?
A Rule of Life
I’ve recently described my holy discontent in a particular area of calling as a pot of water on low that has finally come to a full boil. The steam and bubbles can no longer be ignored. Aaron Niequist writes in his book Eternal Current that, as we recognize the discontent that is bubbling to the surface in us, we can hold it before God, asking him to translate this discontent into specific action, or what some spiritual formation guides call “a rule of life.”
A rule of life is a craft, a way of being, that we adopt for a season to grow us intentionally toward a way of living that aligns more fully with our values, vision, and priorities. Aaron invites us to ask Jesus for these holy habits that instill growth in us for our own wholeness and for the world.
The voices throughout this post and the words of Jesus are like threads of affirmation and truth I’ve been gathering, weaving into a narrative I can wrap around my heart and allow to teach and remake me.
One of these wise voices is that of Barbara Brown Taylor (2019), a Jesus-filled spiritual guide who urges us, when the way is not clear, to remain open and curious rather than rigid or afraid. I will practice this, and refuse the rules, fear, and rigidity that beckon me to control what I don’t understand as I seek the heart of Jesus and work with him to transform the world.
Reality is much more fluid. The Holy Spirit guides, he works organically in us, he does far more than we can ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20). I look ahead with hope, with suspended doubt and flexible expectations.
I will pause. I will ask. I will make audacious and unexpected connections, requests, and calls. I will see the gifts of others and celebrate them. I will honor and affirm the good at every turn.
I will not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. I will not lay down in resignation, allowing evil to win. Light has always overcome the most complicated darkness. Every time.
Lean into the devastation, the disappointment, the longing for wholeness, healing and justice for you, your relationships, your immediate community, and for national and world crises. Sometimes we rush our grief work, and we need, instead, to linger in a place of individual and communal lament to reach deeper into the healing we and our world needs.
Then, ask Him to reveal a simple rhythm of life or practice that can move
you toward a fulfillment of your vision or longing.
Discontent. You are a friend. You are prodding me forward, out of complacency and comfort, into my destiny once again.
Lord, I see only dimly. Someday we will see in full. Though I see only in part, I see your goodness, your capacity to recreate, to redeem, to take our failures and our best that is never quite enough and make it more than is needed, to make it complete.
For our children, for our marriages, for our community, for our leaders and influencers, teachers, mothers, fathers, care givers: have mercy. Do what only you can. Love and nurture, intervene and heal. Lead us with shocking simplicity and divine brilliance into the work that is absolutely critical in this day, for this hour, for this generation.
Intervene, God, and wrap your motherly and fatherly arms around these children, detained in tight quarters, some with loved ones and some all alone. Comfort them, protect them from harm, neglect, despair, abuse. Lead me in, Jesus. Lead me directly to these little ones. Mobilize us, Jesus, to action. Heal our land. Change our national and international hearts and minds where we are wrong and show us the way forward for justice and mercy before you. O church, rise up. Daughters and sons rise up. Leaders of each nation, rise up. In grace, in dignity, in great mercy and pure justice, each bound by the restraint and passion of love. Rise up.
Brown Taylor, B. (2019). Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others. HarperOne: San Francisco, CA.
Niequist, A. (2018). The Eternal Currentt: How a Practice-Based Faith Can Save Us From Drowning. Waterbrook: Colorado Springs, CO.