Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Stop Fearing Discomfort

Written by: on September 30, 2020


It’s a high-octane undercurrent of energy that drives some to remain safe and others to lash out with violence.


It seems to have replaced the hope and the vision and the optimism the once inspired personal, organizational, and even cosmic exploration.


For some, it’s a debilitating power that renders them paralyzed. For others, it generates kinetic energy that moves them into the unknown.


It’s a stranglehold on humanity that seems to be strengthening into a death grip that controls how we live, move, and have our being.


According to prolific sociologist Frank Furedi, author of How Fear Works “Western culture has become less and less able…to deal with risk and uncertainty.”[1]  He suggests that moral beliefs have lost significance and so we use fear to legitimate our causes. That is, because we have drifted from a world based on morality (right vs. wrong & good vs. evil) hope has been replaced by fear as the primary influence of human decision making. Thus, Furedi concludes that “society has unwittingly become estranged from the values – such as courage, judgment, reasoning, responsibility – that are necessary for the management of fear.”[2] He points to “the adoption of new methods of socializing young people that served as the catalyst for the ascendancy of the culture of fear. Young people are socialized to feel fragile and overawed by uncertainty.”[3]

One of the casualties connected to our inability to manage fear is that discomfort has been misdiagnosed as evil. A moral judgment[4] has been attached to the experience of discomfort which causes us to retreat toward the known, the safe, and the secure.

I see this most notably as I accompany U.S.-based faith leaders in their ongoing formation. Through our immersive approaches to transformation, we expose these leaders to the real implications of the imperial theology that they have been groomed within. This kind of exposure, while well-curated, is wildly uncomfortable for these dominant-culture faith leaders. As I accompany them into the discomfort, I’ve learned that their immediate interpretation of it is that the discomfort is an indication that something wrong has occurred. They’re terrified to take the next step forward into the process of transformation because they’ve been trained to equate discomfort with evil. This misdiagnosis fuels a fearful retreat rather than a courageous pressing on. Thus, rather than continuing into the pilgrimage through disorientation, fear-fueled inertia threatens to pull them out of the process.  Fear disqualifies many of them from the very transformation that will liberate them into new reserves of courage.

My conviction is that our transformation lies just on the other side of discomfort. That rather than it signaling danger, discomfort is an indication that transformation is near. It is not something to be feared, rather, discomfort is a reality to be embraced. Thus, if we are to become better, more whole and alive versions of ourselves, we are going to have to grow in our capacity to metabolize and manage our fear.

The first step is naming the discomfort and the fear that accompanies it and then choosing to take one step toward it rather than backpedaling toward the known.


[1] Furedi, 8.

[2] Ibid., 33.

[3] Ibid., 33.

[4] Furedi discusses the connection between morality and fear on pg. 29. He writes: “what we fear is evil and what is evil we fear.”

About the Author

Jer Swigart

9 responses to “Stop Fearing Discomfort”

  1. Shawn Cramer says:

    This is one of your most pointed posts, albeit your shortest. I’m sure you have considered the emotional processes along the journey of dominant-culture faith leaders, but I’m convinced (through Friedman) that these emotional processes are much more driving than I had previously given credit. It seems “we” tend to think about getting the right teaching and often largely ignore the emotional process of disorientation and reorientation. If I were to sharpen this post, while I agree with your crescendo (Thus, if we are to become better, more whole and alive versions of ourselves, we are going to have to grow in our capacity to metabolize and manage our fear.), I would take this a step further to what’s at stake, not just for the individual, but for the needs of the world. “Being whole and alive” seemed flat to me after such a pregnant preceding paragraph (I see this most notably…).

    • Jer Swigart says:

      Thanks Shawn.

      My personal inertia is always toward impact. So much so that I tend to neglect the reality that in order to get to the Kin-dom flavored impact that we seek we have to become substantively difference kinds of people. Becoming more whole and alive will only happen as we learn to confront the misnomer that discomfort is evil. My sense is that the only way that we learn to embrace discomfort as the entrance to transformation is if we dare to acknowledge and metabolize our fear and then take a step toward it. I can’t wait for the transformation to occur before I step into the unknown…its in the act of stepping that I become a substantively different kind of leader.

      I wonder what, from your perpsective, would have felt like a more fitting conclusion to this piece.

      • Shawn Cramer says:

        Just what you wrote in response to me is superb:

        Becoming more whole and alive will only happen as we learn to confront the misnomer that discomfort is evil. My sense is that the only way that we learn to embrace discomfort as the entrance to transformation is if we dare to acknowledge and metabolize our fear and then take a step toward it. I can’t wait for the transformation to occur before I step into the unknown…its in the act of stepping that I become a substantively different kind of leader.

  2. Darcy Hansen says:

    Seminary was a greenhouse of growth for me. My desire to be a great student kept me in the really uncomfortable process of holistic transformation. If I’m honest, on most days, good grades and wanting to finish strong were my motivators to stay. Plus, I never felt like leaving was an option. God placed me there, and I was to remain, to abide in Christ in the process, until I released.

    What role does abiding in Jesus play for your leaders as you facilitate them through the process of transformation (which actually is never ending)? Have you shared Fowler’s stages of faith development with them (http://psychologycharts.com/james-fowler-stages-of-faith.html) along the way? For me, this was integral in my development. It was not only a way forward but it provided an end-goal (though I know that goal will likely not be fully attained in this life). It also normalized the spiritual growth process. I find in many evangelical spaces, “becoming like Jesus” is preached, but few know how to get there. They haven’t lived it, so they can’t model it, in large part because they haven’t seen it modeled for them. It’s scary, especially when all the conditions they exist in actually fight against the process (job loss, decrease of congregation numbers, etc). I wonder what freedom leaders would experience if they had the mindset that having a few people dedicated to deep transformational work in their congregation was better than having countless people willing to live off crumbs and never change? It requires a huge amount of courage to take that leap- and it forces us to wrestle with the questions “Is God really who God’s says he is?”and “Can God really be trusted?”

    • Jer Swigart says:

      Fowler will feature significantly in my research. His work has been so helpful for us and for me personally.

      Yeah…a growth area that we’ve focused on over the past three years in the essential nature of the contemplative (abiding) life. Just last week, during one of our workshops, one of our panelists brought this back to the forefront by simply saying, “The only forward for me is spending time with Jesus.” My expereince concurs with hers. Over these past few years, my contemplative practices have taken on a new & deepend value. It’s the space where the Spirit fills my lungs and empowers me forward. I’m resonating today with Mother Teresa’s setiment that if she’s not found by Jesus at the beginning of the day, she’ll likley not discover him (in the poor) thorughout the day.

      Since this week’s debate, I watching fear inform practice again in that so few white evagenlical pastors are willing to publicly denounce white supremacy. Being that it was the loudest moment of the debate and that, in my opinon, white supremacy is the greatest threat to the supremacy of Jesus on the planet, it should be a no-brainer for Christian leaders to publicly denounce it in all of its forms. Yet they won’t.

      What is it that you think they fear that would cause them to remain silent in this moment?

      • Darcy Hansen says:

        I’m so glad you are incorporating Fowler in your work! In regard to your question, I wonder if what is feared most is if God really does love them? Does God really favor them, and their white, evangelical, protestant-ethic built selves? If they speak out, they will have to actually admit that God has leveled the playing field through Jesus. They will have to admit their reading of scripture is incomplete, or worse faulty, and if that house of cards comes down, what will they do? Evangelicals have little to stand on once their theological house of cards fall, because they have never seen any value in church history or other denominational doctrines. It’s always been their way or the highway. So who will they be if they aren’t #blessed? Their whole identity is woven into being right, and if that is gone, they are nothing; they are basically dead. But what they don’t understand, is that’s where life begins. To stand with our Black brothers and sisters is to stand with life. But when fearfully clinging to a false identity woven with power and platform, it’s difficult to see anything else. That’s my guess. I’m not them, and can’t really speak into what internal demons they wrestle with. What have you observed?

  3. Dylan Branson says:

    This morning I was watching Batman Begins and the theme of fear was blatantly interwoven throughout the movie. Near the beginning of the movie, this line really struck me:

    “People need dramatic examples to shake them out of their apathy.” – Bruce Wayne

    As I reflect on church history, I think of the martyrs and how in the face of fear, they stayed true to the course that Jesus called them to. Today, when churches hear stories of persecution in other nations it forces them to pause and reflect, “What would I do? Would I deny the name of Christ as fear enraptures my soul?” For myself, the challenge and call that I’ve read about break me. There is an emotional reaction that drives us past our fear when it is used to further the call of discipleship.

    Jer, who have been the “dramatic examples” that have inspired you? Who are the people who have pushed you, invited you, and led you down the path Jesus is leading you?

  4. Greg Reich says:

    You mention that discomfort is often seen as evil. One of the down falls of the prosperity gospel that main stream Christianity is waking up to is the idea that suffering is caused by a lack of faith and a sign of God displeasure. The idea that a true Christian will never lack or suffers is so counter to heart of the gospel.
    Philip Yancey wrote a book many years ago entitled Where is God when it Hurts. It was an exploration on the purpose and benefits of pain. As some one who has had to learn to live with chronic pain due to a major accident several years ago I have had to learn to see discomfort and pain differently. As you explained discomfort can be a path to redemption for those willing to walk through the process.

  5. John McLarty says:

    I’m reminded of the guy who said to his doctor, “My arm hurts when I bend it.” To which the doctor replied, “Then don’t bend it.” Your post is a reminder of we avoid pain, discomfort, and fear and how the transformation that often eludes us waits just on the other side. Many will begin the journey, but sadly, stop short of the destination when it gets uncomfortable or scary. Thanks for naming this and pushing us further.

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