All of us like to be comfortable. We’re hardwired to seek it out. It is the opposite of pain and pain is a sign of danger. In effect, being comfortable helps us to feel secure and safe. This is true in some really helpful ways and some really unhelpful ways.
When a person is in a hospital bed and unable to move they have to be shifted around by nursing staff otherwise sores will develop. When I move in my bed at night or in my chair right now, it’s because my brain gets the signal that there’s a pressure point and so I unconsciously shift my position to be more comfortable. This is a really helpful way that my body seeks out comfort.
When my alarm goes off in the morning, however, my body cries out for me to stay in bed. I know that I’m planning on going to the gym and I know it’s good for me. Going to the gym is not comfortable though. It’s actually hard work. My suspicion is that if you were to take a poll of everyone at the gym they would all say that it’s often hard to get there. It always takes a push to make it happen. The discomfort of exercise requires effort to overcome.
The effort is required even though I know, and everyone else knows, that exercise is good for us. It’s required even though I know that my quality of life, and maybe even my long term survival, will be positively impacted by it. That’s kind of remarkable when I stop to think about it. Even though I know that exercise may increase the length of my life it is still hard to do. The discomfort weighs so heavily on me that part of me would rather risk my health, maybe even my survival, than endure the discomfort.
Somehow, the connection between comfort and safety that our brains draw doesn’t change even when the discomfort is good for us. We still associate the discomfort with risk or danger even when it might be necessary.
And that’s where we sometimes find ourselves in a life of faith. The place of comfort and security is where we want to be but where we need to be is the place of discomfort and insecurity. This has been said so many times that it’s almost a cliché. Regardless, it remains deeply true, and in the context of the Anglican church, is only becoming more and more pressing as the place of comfort becomes less and less sustainable.
It’s a cliché, but a cliché pointing us to a way of being in which we are attentive to comfort in our life of faith. Our attentiveness to comfort functions as a type of morning alarm clock. The comfort we become aware of can help us wake from a deep, restful, blessed sleep in gratitude. The rising awareness of our comfort can help remind us that it’s time to forsake that comfort and face the cool air of the morning and the work of a fresh day.