Happy New Year! I hope your party last night was fun, and even offered you some solace in a world that is looking rougher all the time.
Thomas Hobbes described life as “nasty, brutish, and short.” In 1890, the average life expectancy was 43 years old. Man was born to a life of painful adversity punctuated by sickness and death. Only in the last century have economic advances made a life of comfort possible.
We crave the familiar, the soft, the pleasant. We crave the comfortable. We want to satisfy the senses with what has satisfied them before. And that’s not all bad – Jesus came to give us abundant life and has good things for us to enjoy. What we need to look out for is the limits of comfort and taking our cravings too far.
When I was a small boy transitioning from the comfort of my mother’s side to the hard knocks of childhood, I had a security blanket that gave me comfort; it was soft and familiar. I looked like Linus. When I began to realize that security blankets were undignified and potentially a source of ridicule, I was faced with a crisis.
My mother helped resolve the matter by cutting the blessed blanky in half. Later she cut it in half again. Eventually, by the time I was four or five, she had reduced it to the size of a small handkerchief that could be folded up to a dignified square in my blazer pocket during dinner parties. If I had a panic attack in the company of older, rougher children, there was the blessed blanky, the very touch of which brought comfort.
All of us have to move beyond the comfortable if we are ever to grow. A little comfort may soothe our anxious souls and help us deal with life’s hard edges; but a baby bird left too long in a nest will foul it. Like birds, we were made to fly – we can’t experience the sensation of soaring while enjoying the comforts of our nest. We need to feel pain and expose ourselves to risk if we’re ever to experience the wind beneath our wings and begin soaring.
Have you been sitting in a comfortable place too long? You may suffer from a kind of comfort addiction. What better time to make a change than now, as we enter a new year. I recommend two things for those wanting to break out of their comfortably numb state and find their greatness:
1. Wean yourself. Identify those things that bring you comfort. Make a list that includes the things you own, the stuff you wear, the places where you hang out, the stuff you consume, the people you associate with. Let me suggest that some of the things on the list are too prominent in your life – they have begun to define you even though the result doesn’t represent the best version of you.
If there is stuff on your list that occupies too large a space in your life, then determine to decrease your dependence on it. We eat too much, drink too much soda, buy too many toys, surround ourselves with too many distractions. All this may satisfy our immediate cravings, but it robs us of the pleasure that can only be found through the discipline of self-denial.
2. Risk more. The net result of a comfortable life is risk minimization. We live between societally prescribed guardrails. We need to re-energize ourselves by determining to take more risks. Maybe physical risks are the easiest place to begin – start with sledding and move to skydiving. And realize that hey, the economy may well force you take risks with your career anyway.
For my money, we who live in the oh-so rational/cynical western world need to move beyond physical risks to the more difficult arena of taking more spiritual risks. Burned by church? Don’t let that keep you from praying. Legalistic Christians turn you off? Jesus was anything but a legalist – let me challenge you to take a risk and look at him and his ways again.
Schedule a fresh reading* about the wild man from Nazareth who turned the world upside down. Discover who he really was without all the trappings of religion. And, even scarier, find out who he wants you to be – it probably has little to do with your comfort.
*The book of Luke is a good place to start.