Dissonance: A Discipleship Opportunity

I was sitting at my computer checking off tasks when my phone started buzzing. Looking at the number, I knew it was a conflict, and I knew the conversation would be long and messy. My chest constricted. My mouth went dry. I rejected the call.

How do you respond when you experience dissonance? When something surprises or disrupts your life? When you feel displaced from your expected experience? Our response is key to our growth as disciples.When we experience surprise or change, our hearts are exposed. Let me explain.

An Exposed Heart

When my phone buzzed that morning, my heart was exposed—and it wasn’t a pretty sight. It led to the opportunity to see some things more clearly. First, I recognized my feelings about the work I was trying to do. I felt the pressure of deadlines. I felt fearful of stepping away from my tasks because then I’d get further behind. Second, I recognized feelings about the relationships represented by the call. In my own exhaustion, I wanted to avoid the pain and tension in that situation—even though I really love all the people involved.  I knew that the conversation needed to happen for the sake of the mission, but I felt emotionally unready to have the conversation. There it was:  dissonance between my own exposed heart and the deeper calling to be a growing disciple of Jesus.

Growing Disciples In, Like and With Christ

Dissonance and exposure provide an opportunity to grow as disciples of Jesus. All of us hope to be growing disciples:

  • Growing In Christ in intimacy:  We grow in Christ as we grow in intimacy as a beloved child of God.

  • Like Christ in character:  We grow to be more like Christ in character as our passions, energies, and interests are transformed by his love.

  • With Christ in his mission:  We grow with Christ as we join him in his mission to bring other people into his good kingdom of justice, mercy, and compassion. 

Growing in all three of these dimensions—intimacy, character, and mission—requires deep work in our hearts.  Dissonance can help bring about this deep work!

Dissonance Helps us Grow

Try thinking of dissonance as an invitation from God into a discipleship cycle:  the experience of dissonance calls for debrief and interpretation. If we enter the discipleship cycle in our experience of dissonance, then our next step as growing disciples is to debrief that experience, seeking a word from the Lord. The debrief often happens best in community, but God meets us one on one as well. Psalm 130 gives us clues: 

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive

to my cry for mercy. (Ps 130:1-2)

David finds himself in dissonance and he brings that dissonance to God in prayer, seeking appropriate debrief and interpretation. He fully expects that this debrief with God will lead to the Word he needs to hear next. And, in fact, we find that by the end of his prayer David has received renewed hope and assurance:

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities. (Ps 130:7-8)

Having heard that word, David then could grow as a disciple by responding positively to God’s work in his heart.

Good Day for Growth

I don’t always respond well to dissonance as a growing disciple should, but the day I rejected that call turned out to be a good day for growth. After the call came in, I took a break and went for a walk outside, praying and reflecting. I gave those exposed areas of my heart (stress of responsibilities and fear of conflict) to Jesus and asked him to grow me as his disciple. I listened for the next word, which in this case involved all three dimensions of intimacy, character, and mission. In intimacy, God expressed his love for me even in my failure and mess. To shape my character, he invited me to the discipline of engaging conflict for the sake of justice and reconciliation. To be with him in mission, he reminded me that the relationships would bear good fruit in the kingdom of God. So I came back and made the call.

What are the small and large experiences of dissonance in your life right now? How might you bring those to God for debrief and interpretation? What word might God speak into your exposed heart, for the sake of your growth in Christ, like Christ, and with Christ? 

Allow dissonance to open your heart. Listen to God and respond to what he says. And you might just discover that today really is a good day for growth.

Jason Jensen

National Field Director - West

Jason Jensen serves as National Field Director for the Western Cluster. He and his wife, Susi, live in Berkeley, California. They have two children, daughter, Abby, and son, Gabe. Jason has been with InterVarsity since 1989.