Seeking discomfort: when comfort becomes dangerous

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As Sydney returned to lockdown just before the mid-year school holidays, it was with a sense of deja vu. Back to working from home, limited contact with others, church services and plans derailed, postponed or destroyed. Unlike the first time, where, at least for me, there was a bit more preparedness and newness (it helped that I was on paternal leave), this lockdown feels more draining. 

But can I admit something? I was a bit happy to return to work from home after a stressful month or two. Not getting out of bed until work starts, not getting out of sweatpants or pyjamas to dress up for work (ever), staying warm and comfortable at home. 

It’s liberating to be set free from certain obligations and events. 

It’s easy to become familiar with comfort clothes and comfort foods. But comfortable is not always healthy or good. 

Comfort can be dangerous. With comfort comes complacency and excess. Discipline is harder to maintain. Pain and discomfort are avoided at all costs. 

The pain that comes from exercise and the effort needed is necessary for many of us in our sedentary work from home lifestyles. Likewise, spiritual disciplines are often uncomfortable, including the decision to share Jesus. His path is not an easy one to walk and He never promised comfort. His way is foolishness to the world (1 Corinthians 1:18). Spiritual disciplines are also uncomfortable. It becomes harder to read our Bibles and pray and easier to watch television or scroll social media. 

I want to be very clear. Many of us are choosing comfort in this season due to underlying collective trauma. A worldwide pandemic, not seeing family, freedom restricted—these are difficult challenges to work through. So we must acknowledge the burnout and not pile pressure on ourselves. It is easy to be discouraged and heap more shame upon our already guilty feelings. 

We need to be kind to ourselves. But more than that, we need the Holy Spirit. Only God can heal the underlying reasons why we seek out comfort over discomfort. Only God can send us His Holy Spirit to prompt us to leave our comfort zone and do something uncomfortable for Him. God uses our discomfort—for our growth and for His kingdom. Jesus illustrates this principle in His discourse on the kernel of wheat.

“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24).

As humans our flesh wages war with our spirit. And our flesh seeks comfort and ease and happiness. But joy is worth so much more. Living out God’s calling for your life is a place of joy, even in times of difficulty and darkness. It can be uncomfortable. Ask the early apostles, who faced persecution and death. Ask any Christian missionary or leader. Living according to God’s will is not always a place of comfort. Yet for our own spiritual growth and development, we must be challenged, charged and released out of our comfort zone and into contact with others. God can still use us in our discomfort. 

The problem with the church of Laodicea is that they are comfortable (see Revelation 3:14-22). They believe they are rich, but don’t realise they are poor, wretched and naked. In this season, this letter reads less as a critique on any denomination or church of a certain age, but as a challenge to me as an individual. As I luxuriate in the riches of my life, the blessings that surround me, am I willing to be pushed or challenged for the sake of the gospel? Am I willing to lay my life down, to become comfortable being uncomfortable? Something needs to change or my comfort will kill me (continually eating “comfort food” and not exercising will get you eventually). 

Yet I find that I cannot leave my comfort zone in my own strength. I need to buy from the Holy Spirit gold that has been refined by fire, balm so my eyes can see spiritual realities and a robe that covers me in Jesus’ righteousness. Maybe with that new robe, I can finally get out of these sweatpants.