The 2016, GOP and Democratic hopefuls have beset us with both. Many of us are capable of doing one or the other-few can do both. Some admit willingly “comforting others” is not their gift. Most of us are far better at objurgating. Words may serve as a balm or a bane to others. Thomas Merton observed, “But there is greater substance of silence than in the answer to the question.” He has a point. In the face of our own discomfort with one who’s afflicted, we often feel compelled to talk incessantly. In that context, silence seems to last an eternity. Those seeking comfort, at any cost, may find, in the end, it’s not a balm at all.
C.S. Lewis said it best, “In religion, as in war an everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will get neither comfort or truth-only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with, and in the end, despair.” In our realm, we often find ourselves-wherever that is-being unwilling to face the storms and vicissitudes of life, and brave the battle, often exposing our soft underbelly-leaving us vulnerable. One rarely has to look for affliction-it finds us. A rare and costly commodity is comfort. It may masquerade itself for a season as affliction.
The comfort of choice appears to be quite diverse. Some find solace in a book. Music doth soothe the savage soul. Others cling to their pet of choice. Distress, anxiety and suffering drive some to their drug of choice. The degree of cheer or comfort may be fleeting or transient. The Scriptures inform us, “A word fitly spoken” is a balm to the soul of others. Beatrix Potter, in her classic, “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” describes a remedy, “Peter was not very well during the evening. His mother put him in bed, and made him some chamomile tea: One table-spoonful to be taken a bedtime.” Sage rabbit. Our race is adept at finding temporal potions and elixirs.
To the casual observer of Biblical Christianity, Jesus is often mischaracterized as either a “full-time comforter” or a “harsh afflicter.” Neither are true. He comforted as only He can. He also afflicted those who deserved affliction. He comforted the woman trapped in adultery, forgiving her, and told her to “go and sin no more.” The Pharisees and scribes were denounced with scathing words designed to afflict, characterizing them as hypocrites, revealing their feigned “purity” as “whitened sepulchers.” They needed a dose of truth. Unvarnished affliction. Their comfort was in clinging to their traditions that trumped the Law, afflicting others.
Like children we seek comfort and respite from conditions that assail us and interrupt our reverie. Parents eventually learn that a constant dose of comfort is counterproductive to a balanced, healthy offspring-at the risk of rearing a lazy, self-indulgent brat that we turn loose on others. We needn’t afflict them. However, we need to prepare them for the affliction that will surely come. It’s easy to confuse the need to comfort and taking away pain. Comforting a parent who just lost their child doesn’t abrogate the pain. However, someone aptly said, “It pulls up a chair beside the pain, until it ends.” A hand on the shoulder comforts many.
The universally known 23rd Psalm wasn’t written in “sunny valley.” Verse four sets the context, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” It was His presence that comforted the shepherd boy. He comforts us not to make us comfortable, but to permit us to be comforters to others, according to John Henry Jowett.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that comfy place, a cozy corner or nook, where it feels good to us, augmented by our favorite liquid. Alone, or with a friend. However, we weren’t created for a reclusive life, immune from calamity or joy. Enough with the “selfie” perversion. Refrain from prolonged stays at the psychiatrist couch, or dulling our senses with prescription drugs. Comfort zones may become a bunker from life. Neither opulence or a life of leisure’s an assurance of comfort. If we’re conflicted about which to seek-comfort or affliction, it’s not an “either or” proposition. It’s a fact-they sell Lazy Boy rockers. They sell Total Gyms too. We needn’t spend time on only one. One’s for our comfort-the other for our affliction.
It’s understandable to lack the wisdom to know which we need, how much, or when. That’s truly His realm. In this world of inevitable uncertainty, finding rest for one’s soul’s quite appealing. In the midst of burdensome affliction-Matthew 11:28 hastens us to that place of rest. There’s an antidote for this predicament. What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. His email’s firstname.lastname@example.org