We often choose peace over progress. Rocking the boat is uncomfortable and uncertain, so we choose the path of least resistance.
There are times though when we must go through difficulty to grow. Think about surgery. Surgery is painful and risky. Even a so-called simple surgery causes a great deal of pain, which is why we are given anesthesia and pain killers to get through it. During recovery we are often in more pain and weaker than before going under the knife. Yet we elect to have surgery because we know that on the other side of the pain, we will be better.
In the lives of individuals and organizations this is sometimes called the J-Curve (see image to the right). The surgery causes a dip in performance, attendance, ability, or whatever your metric of success is. Then after the period of pain we not only recover, we have the ability to grow to heights we could have never achieved without that painful period.
One of the sports stories today is Tiger Woods’ decision to opt out of the US Open next week because of a leg injury that hasn’t completely healed. Surely he could play and do fairly well – he won the 2008 Open with an injury that caused so much pain he was practically swinging on one leg. But Tiger wants more than to play in this one tournament. He wants to regain his status as the best golfer in the world and continue his quest toward being considered the best golfer ever. He knows that the short-term loss of missing this weekend’s golf will be better in the weeks, months, and years ahead. To that end, he is willing to experience the pain of disappointing his fans and giving up the possibility of making some money as a top finisher, for the hope of winning many more majors with fully healed legs in the years to come.
My congregation is currently going through some pain, pain which some say could have been avoided. We could have kept the struggle confined to the leadership, and not have shared it with the entire congregation. Truth be told, that was a tempting option. Thankfully our leadership knows better. We asked to have the surgery now, to cause the pain, to go into the downward dip of the j-curve for the moment. We did this because we knew that choosing peace over progress would have kept a ceiling on our ability to grow people in discipleship. We know healing is on the other side of the pain, and that new heights are now possible.
In his book The Me I Want to Be (Zondervan: 2010) John Ortberg renames the J-curve the “Jesus-curve” saying that Jesus “will never stop helping a follower of his who is sincerely seeking to grow.” He then adds:
Jesus will always lead us toward growth, and growth always requires risk, and risk always means failure. So Jesus is always leading us into failure (201).
Hearing that Jesus is always leading us into failure doesn’t sound like much comfort, but when we remember that failure is just the bottom of a j-curve it is! This idea is fundamental to Christianity – death and resurrection, pain and healing, brokenness and forgiveness, loss of self to gain the Kingdom of God. Paul writes it this way:
I will not boast, except of my weaknesses…I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:5b, 9b-10 NRSV).
Paul knew that without the weakness, there would be no growth. Without knowing our need and surrendering it to God we stifle our possibility for growth. When we are willing to enter that dip in the j-curve, there are exciting new growth opportunities available.
Extend this with me. Let’s not just talk about a church or Tiger Woods but rather let’s make this personal. Are you choosing peace over progress? Is there a friend you are afraid to make uncomfortable with information s/he really needs to hear? Is there something in your marriage/parenting/family that is casting a shadow over all of your interactions? Is there a festering wound in your life and/or relationships that would benefit from some surgery?
Dare to enter the j-curve. Sure there is risk and there will be pain, but there is healing, strength, and resurrection on the other side.