The Comfort Myth

Christa Hesselink

Christa Hesselink

One time, Christa Hesselink got on stage in front of a few hundred people (and a few thousand more online), pretended to use a giraffe floaty toy, admitted her addiction to fancy napkins, and made me think about comfort in a whole new way.

Years later, she tells me that that was the first message she ever gave at The Meeting House, our church, and that she was scared out of her mind. The message that she stepped out of her comfort zone to tell, emboldened me to step out of my comfort zone.

Since then, Christa has shared a few messages, many of them focused on comfort. I guess you could say Christa is a “comfort expert”, but not in an awesome-at-being-comfortable way, but in a let’s-examine-what-culture-tells-us-about-comfort-and-turn-it-on-its-head kind of way.

So I was thrilled when Christa agreed to share her thoughts about comfort on my blog. And let me tell you, these are some seriously challenging and thoughtful thoughts.

And you should know, in addition to being a “comfort expert”, Christa is incredibly kind, crazy funny, and one of the most authentic people I know. I’m so grateful for her!

How would you define comfort?
Comfort is the state of feeling safe, secure and content.

How is comfort disguised in our culture? What does our culture tell us about comfort?
Our culture holds “comfort” in very high esteem – it’s perhaps one of the highest values of the West. We’ve been told that a full life is a comfortable life; where there is no pain…not even a whiff of it. While every human being is hard-wired to feel safe, secure and content (and there’s nothing wrong with any of that!), we have fallen into the false belief that what culture has to offer will actually bring us these things and scratch that most basic human itch to be comfortable.

I’m not sure comfort disguises itself in our culture as much as it tells us lies. We know what comforts us (pass the bag of chips please!), but we often mistake it for something that will actually bring us our deepest sense of safety, security and contentment. Our culture tells us that we will be most comfortable when we acquire what will make us happy and forget about what brings us pain – and the quicker we can get happy, the better!

What “comfort” feels like for people is as unique as the individual, and there is no shortage of options to pacify ourselves. People use substances (ie. food, drink, drugs), activities (ie. hobbies, work), the acquisition of “stuff” and other habits to avoid pain in the attempts to feel safe, secure and content. These things are powerful anesthetizers and we often mistake being numb to pain as the comfort we crave. I think that’s a dangerous lie to believe.

When does comfort become dangerous?
I think there are a few ways our pursuit of comfort is dangerous:

  • When we feel entitled to being comfortable even when it comes at the expense of an other person’s well-being.
  • When we forfeit personal growth because of our addiction to being comfortable.

When we disregard our own growth and our responsibility to care for others and choose to be comfortable instead, we’ve actually attached ourselves to false comfort. We take short cuts striving to be instantly gratified and pursing convenience at all costs – but these two things are not the stuff that will truly bring us a sense of safety, security and contentment. Losing sight of our own growth and not showing compassion to others may not feel like a big deal in the short term, but it’s the slow toxic death of our souls.

Do you think our fear of vulnerability keeps us in our comfort zone?
Yup! Let’s be clear – feeling vulnerable is NOT like a warm blanket and a hot cup of cocoa by the fire on a winter’s day. It’s more like a battle to stay warm in raging snowstorm. Vulnerability doesn’t feel like safety and security – it’s the antithesis of contentment. So, it makes sense that if we crave comfort, we will fear feelings of vulnerability.

snowstorm

Photo: wea00957, NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) Collection, Creative Commons

In your experience, what has happened when you’ve stepped out of your comfort zone?
I’ve had lots of opportunity to step out of my comfort zone – some self-imposed steps, some forced. In every case, my existing limits have stretched and I’ve grown.

One of my most recent personal experiences has been my choice teach the Sunday message at our church. This is a step I’ve chosen to take – no one has forced me, but it is oh so scary! I’ve not only learned a lot about what it takes to prepare and craft a message, but how quickly my insecurities and sense of fragility rise to the surface. Stepping out of my comfort zone has meant stepping into unchartered thoughts and feelings with a real sense of exposure. I’m opening myself up to a process that is somewhat out of my control.

I’m someone who wants to submit and surrender my whole life to Jesus and follow where He is leading me. So, this experience has also been a choice to trust Him with these feelings of fear and step out with courage where I believe He’s leading me – even when it feels crazy. I’m learning that the whole experience of feeling vulnerable and not in control while letting Him use me while I prepare and speak is what Paul is talking about in 2 Corinthians 4:7,8 “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”

What advice do you have for someone who wants to live “abundantly” and shed some of the comforts in their lives?
I think there are four main areas to pay attention too. Four places in our lives where we pursue comfort in ways that can really take us off track for the safety, security and contentment we truly crave. Here are some questions you can ask yourself.

  • The STUFF we buy: am I purchasing things that make my life more convenient or pacify me even though it’s not really getting me closer to the life I really want?
  • The TIME we spend: Am I distracting myself to avoid feeling vulnerable?
  • The IMAGE we portray: Am I living a in such a way that doesn’t feel authentic but feels safe (either fitting in or standing out)?
  • The RELATIONSHIPS we have: Am I in a particular relationship that is comfortable for all the wrong reasons or avoiding an important conversation with someone because it might be painful?

I think if we all surveyed our own life and looked at these four areas we’d see where we pursue false comfort and how it actually steals away and kills our ability to live an abundant life. It takes courage to live differently but being comfortable is over-rated when your greatest desire is to live an exhilarating adventure the way we were created to experience.

Thank you Christa for sharing your wisdom and experience!

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3 Responses to The Comfort Myth

  1. Great advice! Especially being the time of Lent where comfort plays a big role. Or rather, no comfort. I agree with the statement about comfort being a huge value in the west. This results in the myth that hard work is something to avoid when in fact it builds you up.

  2. Pingback: Jumping afraid | Choosing Butterflies

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