Our Pursuit of Comfort
(post 6 of 6 in the "Rethink Your Life" series)
Comfort is all around us and we consume ourselves with the pursuit of it.
I’ve bought into this value big time:
Recently my mom passed down her Toyota Avalon to me and I sold my perfectly functioning 2001 Honda Civic. Why did I do it? Comfort!
With the help of our parents, we were able to buy a house three years ago after nine years of renting. We moved from a two bedroom condo to a three bedroom house. Why did we move? Comfort!
Jamie’s parents have a 36-foot RV named “Rambo” that is like the “Ritz on Wheels”. When we have the opportunity to take that out vs. tent camp, the comfort of Rambo wins every time (except sometimes the pain of the cost of 7mpg makes the tent our option for further distances. ☺)
Those are just a few examples off the top of my head that I recognize regarding our stuff.
But Jam and I were talking recently about how we often face the temptation to choose comfort in relationships or with opportunities to serve those around us as well. For us, choosing the less comfortable option in regard to relationships is even more difficult than discomfort related to material things. It is not comfortable to get outside of our typical relational grooves.
So the thing I’ve been wrestling with is how “comfort” is opposed the Kingdom of God. Just like all of the topics in this series, it’s not black and white. I don’t think comfort is entirely opposed to the Kingdom of God, I’m just not sure it’s a top priority. And as a culture, I’m pretty convinced we should not be as consumed with it as we are.
Since we are taking the invitation of Jesus seriously and rethinking our lives in light of the fact that the Kingdom of God is available to us, is comfort a value consistent with the Kingdom of God? If it is, should it consume us the way it does right now?
One angle to take would be to say that the Kingdom of God values sacrifice instead of comfort. Jesus talked a lot about “losing your life to save it”, “taking up your cross”, “laying down your life for others.” While I think sacrifice is a part of the Christian life and the Kingdom of God, I’m not convinced that’s the main reason that we should be careful about how much we pursue comfort.
Another angle would be to talk about the value of suffering. In my own experience, the most growth I have experienced in life has been in times of suffering, trials, and pain. I have seen this true in the lives of those around me as well. This would be another valid way to evaluate comfort's place in the Kingdom of God.
However, the main reason I think we have to be careful with this value of comfort is that we are consumed with it as Americans and it’s message to us is a lie. And, if we are not careful, it could very easily replace God.
Think about it. What does Comfort believe the good life is? I would say that Comfort’s core message to us is this: “The more you have and the nicer it is, the happier you will be. Also, the easier your life is, the happier you will be. Stay away from hard, difficult, and uncomfortable.”
So first of all, Comfort, You’re a liar! Stop lying to us. We know that is not what the good life is about. Yes, we want to have some comfort in our lives, and comfort is not inherently bad, but it’s not the end all, so back off.
Secondly, I think it would be helpful if we could imagine ourselves interacting with Jesus like he did with the woman at the well. I think Jesus would have a very similar conversation with us regarding comfort: “Come on you guys, you know that none of that comfort stuff has worked for anybody. Why do you keep pursuing it like it’s going to make your life better and give you deep abiding joy? I have living water for you… that is the only thing that will satisfy.”
So is comfort bad? I’m actually not sure. It’s not inherently bad, but it’s just so dangerous. This analogy is a little extreme, but I kind of feel like comfort is like a drug dealer, trying to get us to just try a little so that hopefully we get addicted and then we can't get enough.
In my context, comfort is all consuming. It’s not a little voice, it’s the loudest one.
Another way to approach this is to put comfort up against other competing values. Maybe the way we need to look at this is that we need to re-order our loves and make sure the love of comfort is not too high on the list. Let’s look at a few examples:
Generosity vs. Comfort: Let’s say that instead of being generous with the money with which God has entrusted me, instead of giving, I take on so much debt/expenses that I don't have any margin to give. I want to, but with a mortgage, car payments, kids' activities, etc., I'm just not able to give. While this may not appear like pursuing comfort on the outside, I think if you peeled the layers back you would see that it is comfort that is driving this. It's a matter of priority in our budget and a result of decisions I have made to live at a certain level of comfort. In this case, comfort has been placed above generosity. This doesn’t seem right, does it?
Sacrifice vs. Comfort: Let’s say that there is a very needy and insecure neighbor on your street that is very “life-sucking” as opposed to “life-giving”. You know that she is lonely and could really use people to connect with, but it’s just so much easier to have your friends over that give you life because conversation is easier and you enjoy it more. Putting comfort over sacrifice doesn’t seem to align with God's Kingdom values in this example either, does it? Of course we are going to spend time with the people we love and that give us life, but are we choosing that every time?
Service vs. Comfort: Perhaps I have the opportunity to serve the poor or those on the margins once a month. This requires skipping church, or skipping a precious Saturday where we usually have fun family time or time with friends. This service opportunity is much less comfortable than sticking with the routine. This is another case where it seems that comfort should not be the higher value.
Discipline vs. Comfort: I know that spiritual disciplines of solitude, fasting, listening prayer, scripture memorization, service, giving, Sabbath, etc., are all important for my intimacy and relationship with God as well as my own spiritual formation. But they take effort and discipline. I have to get up early, or deal with discomfort, and many times I would just rather not make the effort. Broken record, I know, comfort doesn’t win here either.
Those are only four examples, and they might not be the best ones, but I’m not sure if comfort would ever win if put up against virtuous values. Instead of calling comfort "bad", I think it comes back to how we order our loves and values. We need to monitor how far we let comfort get up the list.
One positive fruit that comes from comfort that comes to mind is rest. Whether it’s having a comfortable home that provides rest and sanctuary, or a comfortable vacation to get away from the pressures and pace of life, rest is consistent with the Kingdom of God.
So again, is comfort bad? I don't think so. But what I do know, using a basketball analogy, is that in our culture, comfort is putting on the “full court press”. It’s not so much that it’s “bad”, it’s just that it’s loud and relentless, and we need to keep it in check.
Also, because it’s so loud and relentless, we need each other. If we can help each other to keep comfort in it’s proper place, it will help to turn down the volume and choose the more virtuous value. If we see others putting comfort in it's place, it will empower us to do the same.
Does Jesus want us to be comfortable? I’m actually not sure, but I am positive he does not want us to be consumed by it or believe its lies about the good life.
The thing to remember is that most of these values we have been talking about over the last six posts are values in the Kingdom of America and we need to make sure to evaluate them against the Kingdom of God and not just jump in the river and go with the flow like everybody else.
I agree with Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador when he asked this question:
“A church that doesn’t provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn’t unsettle, a word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin, a word of God that doesn’t touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed — what gospel is that?”
Let’s continue to rethink our lives in light of the reality that the Kingdom of God is now available to us and allow the Kingdom to provoke and unsettle our current lives and habits so that we become more aligned with the King and his purposes here on earth.
I would love to hear from you: What do you agree or disagree with in this post? Do you experience comfort as “loud and relentless” like I do? What has been helpful from this series? Please post a comment below or make a comment on Facebook to get the conversation going.
If you could rate how valuable comfort is to those around you on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being completely consumed by it and 1 being that you try and avoid it, how would you rate those around you?
How would you rate yourself?
Read the story of the Woman at the Well from John 4:1-26. After you have read it, imagine Jesus having the same conversation with you except he is talking to you about your pursuit of comfort. Ask him all the questions that come up for you. How does he respond? Finish by asking him what the good life is.