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This article was published in Churches Together in England "News", June 2013.

Walking Uncomfortably

Walking uncomfortably! 

Over last few months I have noticed a growing feeling of discomfort for many. Events in the news both at home and abroad, have led to concern about the future and personally I admit to feeling challenged, vulnerable and exposed in work, family and church life. 

It is tempting to spend my energy on the complex reasons for my discomfort, looking for sources of blame and rationalising my own emotional response but I find instead that the discomfort is itself is a gift from God. 

Please do not misunderstand me. It is not pleasant; it does not comfort me and it would be easier if this feeling would pass. However it enables me to move forward, to ask for help and, as I am exposed and vulnerable, there is room for God to move in an unexpected way. 

Throughout history God has asked his people to be uncomfortable; the Old Testament is full with examples and Jesus called the fisherman to leave the familiarity of their nets and follow him. For all of us this discomfort means something different - and in our efforts toward increasing Christian unity there are times when we can feel angry, hurt, frustrated and immobile. 

But our discomfort can also give us passion and strength alongside the vulnerability. It inspires creativity allowing us to reach out to others in new ways, to be open to the Holy Spirit and to each other. 

Discomfort and the resulting vulnerability can lead to change, both big and small. Without the discomfort of William Wilberforce and others like him we might still have the slave trade. Today, Pope Francis challenges us to feel uncomfortable about the poverty in which many still live when all around them – but out of reach there is so much wealth. In so doing he is also making himself more vulnerable. 

We are often at our most vulnerable within our families for; in the words of Walter Anderson "we are never so vulnerable as when we trust someone". Our families are the trusted place, the safe haven where we show our soft underbelly, our most secret fears, and where we are loved just as we are. This should bring out the best in us but such safety means that we sometimes share the darkest aspects of our nature with our families too. 

In my new role with the Association of Interchurch Families I have been privileged to hear many stories of members’ experiences. As the late Canon Martin Reardon (co-founder of the Association and the first General Secretary of CTE) wrote, "We fell in love with each other and found, whether we liked it or not, that we were part of the ecumenical movement". Such stories from interchurch families tell of challenges that are at least uncomfortable, often painful, and even in the most loving of families cannot always be fixed. But they do not end in despair but rather with a positive response in love, fellowship and unity, showing to the churches a living example of hope and Christian unity in action. Pope John Paul II recognised this when he said interchurch families “You live in your marriage the hopes and difficulties of the path to Christian Unity”. 

So as I reconcile my small daily discomforts and as I am made vulnerable, I thank the Lord who calls us all out of our comfort zones, that he was prepared to take on the greatest of all discomforts and be separated from God so that we might never have to do so. 

Doral Hayes is the new Executive Development Officer for the Association of Interchurch Families 

from "Walking Uncomfortably" by Doral Hayes, Churches Together in England "News", June 2013