The other day, he related a dream to me that was not so much exciting as it was convicting. He dreamt that he was standing in line at the grocery store. In front of him was a mother and her little girl, about six or seven years old. As they were standing there, the little girl pulled a comb out of her mother's purse and began hitting my dad on the leg. When he asked her why she was doing that, she said,
"I'm protecting you from a life of comfort."
Now, I'm not the kind of person who puts very much stock in dreams, and neither is my dad. But, I thought this one was particularly interesting, counterintuitive, and even uncanny. It gave me pause, and I am starting to realize how important comfort is, in America, and in my own life particularly.
The idea that we need protection from comfort is not a new one, but very foreign in our culture. In Deuteronomy 6:10-12 Moses warns the Israelites about the dangers of forgetting God when they have become comfortable in the Promised Land:
"Then it shall come about when the Lord your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied, then watch yourself, that you do not forget the Lord who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery."
And in 1 John 2:16, the Apostle John warns his readers to beware of what the world has to offer:
"For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world."
It is not that the physical, mental and emotional comforts this world has to offer are inherently bad. We ought to enjoy those things with which God has blessed us. On the other hand, when we begin to put to much value in worldly comforts that are passing away, they take our focus off the One in whom we should find value and comfort. In those circumstances, a trip to the threshing floor would do us good.
To add to my father's dream, I have experienced something over the last several days (though a very mild example) that has really made me reconsider my attitude toward comfort and pleasure.
For health reasons, I have decided to give up wheat, dairy and cane sugar for a month. For someone like me, who could eat pasta and ice cream every day of the week, it seemed like a big deal at first. But I also recognize that I have plenty of friends who have much more serious food restrictions that they have dealt with their entire lives. And even more, there are so many people around the world who are lucky to get a bowl of rice in the morning. I may not be able to eat my favorite foods right now, but I still have a fridge full of nutritious and delicious options, and that is exactly the point.
It may sound like the argument to get a little kid to eat his spinach--"Now, you remember that there are children starving in Africa..."
But, I'm not saying that what I can and cannot eat is really the issue. It's not that I can't get a scone from Starbucks or have a cupcake at an office party. The issue underneath it all is this: How much stock do I I put in those things, or anything else that makes me "happy."
Ours is a culture based on rights. The right to free speech, free press, free elections, etc. We have taken that idea much too far, demanding that we deserve to be comfortable. If traffic is jammed, we complain. We deserve a stress-free commute. If the wi-fi is down, we complain. We deserve our favorite shows on Netflix. If Burger King gets our order wrong, we complain. We deserve a hamburger without pickles. And I say this knowing that I am guilty of all of it.
So what is the secret to contentment if it isn't comfort? We know that those in our society who have the most physical comforts are often the least content. Christ promises not physical comfort, but eternal comfort. And that comes not from knowing that heaven will be beautiful and pain-free, but from knowing that we have been made forever righteous before God. We have worth because when God sees us, He sees His Son. We have worth, because we are His children, even though we don't deserve it. We are not the sum of our possessions here on earth.
It was Paul who said it best, "...for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."