The Discipline of Unpleasant Things

I’ve been off the grid – off the blogosphere – for 21 days, and there is a reason: the last 21 days have been a mix of whirlwind, grind, ordeal, and upheaval…while we packed up our house and moved. Moved. To a new location in Cincinnati. Out of our house of 20 years, into an apartment, while we continue to look for another home. Our house sold in less than 24 hours back in March, and the prospective owners wanted to close the deal on April 24, so we had to find a house in 5 weeks, or find an apartment for the short term. We did not find a house, and are currently in a six month lease with an apartment complex not far from where we were living. So for the last three weeks (longer for my poor wife), we have been in the process of packing up the house and making arrangements to move.  Now in the midst of all this, from April 8-20, to be exact, I was supposed to be in New York City, Europe and Decatur Ala. for City to City work and a speaking engagement at a missions conference. If I would have kept those engagements, which were scheduled long before we put our house on the market, I would have left my wife to finish the packing, manage the move and the find an apartment by herself.IMG_0660

I was a bit slow to realize what that might mean for Becky, but eventually wised up and realized to be gone during that time would be, well, unwise. So I canceled the Europe portion of the trip. (I had to be in NYC for 2 days, then a week later in Decatur for the Sunday speaking engagement. That was doable.) Becky was glad, it was a necessary and good decision, and I made my contribution to the move.  With our closing on 24 April, this particular week leading up to it was the proverbial “game seven”  of the moving experience: pressure, physical exertion (I have a balky back), exhaustion, frustration, anticipation, hope, patience, impatience, ad nauseam. Moving involves activities that I detest. I now have a clear vision of what hell will be like: moving vans, boxes, tape guns, U-Haul trucks, trailers, POD storage units (nothing against these good vendors, of course, they just are part of the image in my mind), constantly moving from one place to another, carrying boxes up and down stairs, cleaning house, carrying away trash…

And yet, for all my bad attitudes and inner complaining, there is redemption (even) in moving. It’s the discipline of unpleasant things. IMG_0615Life is full of unpleasant things, the moving experience being among the most unpleasant. But it’s a form of divine discipline, and ultimately good, as a hard workout is unpleasant but good in the long run. God tells us that “for the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant”(Hebrews 12).  Amen. The beauty of the realism of God’s word.

The phrase “discipline of unpleasant things” randomly came out of my mouth Friday morning as our men’s Bible study was in the process of each of us sharing what the Lord was teaching us.  I’m pretty sure it’s not original, but it really captured what I have been experiencing, and it resonated with the guys. Our text that morning was Mark 6, the feeding of the 5000, and I saw it from a different lens this time around. It occurred to me (and thanks for the insight from Alan Cole’s commentary) that the disciples were experiencing the discipline of unpleasant things there in the middle of nowhere: they’re tired after an exhausting mission, their private retreat with Jesus was blown up by the crowds who found out where they were, it’s late in the day, they’re hungry, and they really want the people to go away. The disciples were irritated by it all and you can hear it in their remark “this is a desolate place and the hour is now late. Send them away…” Of course Jesus replies “you give them something to eat.” They proceed to organize everybody into groups of fifties and hundreds, no easy task with 5000+ hungry, needy, excited men, women, and children. The miracle of the feeding follows, and everybody’s having a good time. Then, the disciples get to pick up after this gigantic picnic in the middle of nowhere. Think that was fun? Life is not a constant flow of miracles. There are the occasional mighty works of God and the accompanying energizing faith. But in between there is the “discipline of unpleasant things.” We know the value of discipline, it’s all through the Bible.

I often grumble and complain about it.

IMG_0659That’s not good. But it isn’t meant to be fun. And yet it is redemptive. The comfort is that it is good for us, it produces good things, and we follow in the steps of our Master who endured the discipline of far greater unpleasant things for us and for our salvation. Now that the move is over – we closed yesterday and handed over the keys to our wonderful house of 20 years (why did we move, you ask? to get rid of climbing stairs, for us, our aging parents, our grandchildren) – we can get some rest, pray, and reflect on God’s faithfulness to discipline us for our good, that we might share in his holiness, and inhabit His house for eternity.

How do you experience the “discipline of unpleasant things?”