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The proper role of comfort

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The pain of jet lag isn’t bad this morning. Two cups of coffee made the difference. My spirit responds: “Hallelujah!”   The pain of doing the work to write this blog post isn’t bad either. I’m seated on my favorite couch, dogs asleep next to me. You could say I’m comfortable.   …
By Seth Barnes
1684 2The pain of jet lag isn’t bad this morning. Two cups of coffee made the difference. My spirit responds: “Hallelujah!”
 
The pain of doing the work to write this blog post isn’t bad
either. I’m seated on my favorite couch, dogs asleep next to me. You
could say I’m comfortable.
 
Leaving Cambodia yesterday, we faced the pain of a long trip. You
know what I’m talking about – you sit in the same seat and can’t move. There may be a small child behind
you kicking your seat and making a racket the whole way (which in fact
happened to me).
 
If you’re in the window seat, going to the bathroom
means climbing over people, possibly waking them up. So you’re forever
making calculations about how bad you really have to go. That’s a pain.
 
The three flights we had to catch started at midnight. We wouldn’t
be getting home for 24 hours after that. But little comforts along the
way can make a big difference.
 
For example, we had people praying for us to each get three seats
together to lay down on (we got them and slept). In Seoul, we got
complimentary passes to the First Class lounge (think unlimited
cappuccinos). The flight attendants were super polite. I didn’t care so much, but hey, it mattered to Karen.
 
Pain changes us. Too much pain and our bodies respond by going into
shock. Or if it’s the pain of broken relationships, we shut down the
part of us that feels the pain. But then that kind of coping mechanism has
its own consequences – future relationships can go dysfunctional, for instance.
 
Clearly, some level of pain abatement is a good thing. Karen had a headache on the way home – Advil was her friend.
B.F. Skinner, the founder of behaviorism and the most influential psychologist of
the last century, showed us how animals and people adapt their behavior
to avoid pain. It’s at the heart of most motivations.
 
The problem is that we can become addicted to comfort. Deal with
chronic headaches and you may find yourself craving Advil too much or
having to move on to stronger meds.
Comfort and pain exist on a continuum. We need them both to live
happy, productive lives. As Proverbs says, “Give me enough food to live
on, neither too much nor too little. If I’m too full, I might get
independent, saying, ‘God? Who needs him?’ If I’m poor, I might steal
and dishonor the name of my God.” (Prov. 30:8)
In other words, it’s a good thing to be dependent on God, to have
enough need in your life that you don’t just get up and go to the
freezer, but instead pray, “Give us our daily bread.”
 
How are you doing with that balance? Is there enough pain in your
life to keep you dependent on God? In our house, frankly, we tilt toward
complacency. Our freezer is full. The thermostat is set at 77 degrees.
Our car has gas in it. If I pray for anything, it’s not my daily bread,
but “keep me from eating too much today.”
 
If too much comfort is an issue, I need more pain in my life. I
need more dependence on God and a greater awareness of my own mortality.
I really am not a very good representative of Jesus when I’m too
comfortable. I need pain to sharpen me, to get me on my knees.
 
Jesus came to bring comfort to those in too much pain. His beatitudes are a catalog of pains that will be blessed.
 
When they were young, our kids asked us to kiss their “owwies.” Jesus
promises to kiss our brokenness and make it right. In fact, he begins
his ministry by specifically targeting those in the greatest pain – the
poor, the blind, the sick, the oppressed. (Luke 4:18-19)
 
But some folks have been comfortable too long. They’ve become numb
to things of the spirit. They need a change to feel again. And so, the
answer to our prayers for intimacy may be pain. We may be asking “Why
me, Lord?” When that’s his answer.
 
One antidote to too much comfort is to recalibrate our sensitivity with a fast. Whatever it is
that we no longer appreciate, take it away. Karen and I are loving our
home a lot more this morning after having been away for ten days. We
appreciate my 2002 Taurus a lot more after a week of tuk-tuks.
 
We hugged our kids a little tighter because of their absence. The
mattress felt a little softer. The laundry is actually clean. My heart was a little more grateful for
it all.
 
What is it that you need to fast from? Where are you too
comfortable? How dependent on God are you? We all need a wake up call
from time to time.
 
I like what Jesus has to say to us about this: “Wake up! Strengthen what you have left before it dies completely. I have found that what you are doing is less than what my God wants. (Rev. 3:2)


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