We bought a new mattress recently. When we tried it out at the store, I was ready to go to sleep on it there and then. It seemed so comfy and supportive.
Our old mattress, in my husband’s words, had a canoe on each side where we slept. Slight exaggeration of course, but you get the picture. However, for all its faults (and old age), it was comfortable and sinking into my ‘canoe’ at the end of each day seemed bliss.
And then the new mattress arrived. Out went the old. Going to bed that night, it felt so FLAT and I wasn’t sinking into my familiar hole. As much as the mattress felt comfortable in the shop, back in our own surroundings it didn’t seem quite right.
Looking around at what is going on in our community, our society and the world can often make us uncomfortable. What we see can leave us feeling distressed, fearful, unhappy, anxious and worried about what the future might hold.
In this place of dis-ease and of discomfort, it can be easy to seek after our own comfort. We may use alcohol, getting a bigger house or car, holidays, food, chocolate, sex. We may bury ourselves in the safety of relationships with family and friends, seeking to live in denial of the problems – like the proverbial ostrich with our heads firmly stuck in the sand, seeking only our own comfort as the answer.
Unfortunately, the promise of those things is fairly hollow. In the long run, the external ruses we use to self-comfort ourselves don’t last. Reality has a way of sneaking in on us and stealing those comforts we think we have won for ourselves. Material indicators and circumstances will always let us down at that point where they can’t give us the answers we seek.
So how do we live? When is it ok to have some comfort and when is too much?
I grew up in a family where we were regularly encouraged to think of those less fortunate than ourselves. Although there is nothing wrong with this in many ways, we can also be in a space where we deny ourselves self-care, rendering us burnt out. This line is one that I am still working out, although I have a sneaking suspicion that it is a moveable line, one that is not set in stone, and nor is it the same for each of us. I don’t think, either, that it is something we can work out on our own – we need God’s perspective as well.
So when I come to asking the question of what is ok in terms of my own comfort and what is too much, it is really difficult to measure. We can look at those around us – living in the wealthy community that many of us do – and believe that we live at a much lower standard.
On the other hand, we can look at refugees in Syria, or those living in areas ravaged by natural disasters, or those who live in countries full of poverty and corruption and feel as though we should give it all away.
Perhaps the issue is less about what we do or don’t have but our attitude to it.
A measure I like to use is “can I live without it?” If the answer is no, then it probably has a higher hold over my life than it should. I like to think about various aspects of my life, from the material goods, to relationships and experiences and ask the question of how I would cope without these. If I feel that I couldn’t, then I have to ask a further question of how much my dependence is on that object, relationship, particular food, and so on and not on God, who has promised to supply all my needs.
The truth is, too, most of our dependencies (on relationships, food, goods) have come out of negative experiences. We have either struggled without them, or we are using them to mask other, deeper needs.
At the base of these fear often resides – fear of how we would cope without whatever it is, or fear of discomfort and pain. Sometimes it takes the removal of these things to show us that we actually can cope and even live well without them.
Sometimes, it is not until we are in the place of discomfort that we realise we have been relying on the wrong things, on the wrong person. We realise we have molded circumstances and stuff around us to protect us from pain and all they have done is frozen us into a position that is neither helpful nor healthy. We have come to the point where we are immobilised for further action or even to break out – just like my comfy mattress was doing my back no favours and was really difficult to get out of in the morning!
And, of course, fear is the opposite of trust.
Do we really trust God to supply our needs? Do we really trust Him to turn up? Do we really trust He knows best and cares for us, even when it all looks wrong?