In those disconcerting moments, with no on else around, one’s confronted with the stark reality that our culture is troubled, at risk by internal and external threats-the kind that haunt our nights and days. It’s hard to shake. Our quotidian routine is insufficient to quell murmuring to one’s self, as the contour of one’s existence may be subject to haunting changes, never before anticipated. We don ourselves with a razor thin veneer of a false sense of security, followed by a quixotic knee-jerk response that, “All is well.” At our core, we know better. Looking for comfort is a natural response. Is this dilemma of disquieting times merely happenstance? Sadly, lending to one’s troubling soliloquy, is that fretting, anxiety and skepticism has been swallowed by recent generations.
The Carpenters 1971, song “Rainy Days and Mondays,” charted at number two on the Billboard Hot 100. Such poignant lines, “Talkin’ to myself and feelin’ old, Sometimes I’d like to quit, Nothin’ ever seems to fit, Hangin’ around, Nothin to do but frown, Rainy days and Mondays always get me down, What I’ve got they use to call the blues…” Many are subject to the blues now and then. Most get past it. When it persists, it may lead to despair. Despair can be momentary, or a way of life. Affliction is a sure companion. Sadly, many of us are more adept at afflicting others. Fortunately, some are better at comforting. It seems to be a gift.
We understand that words serve as a balm or a bane. In the face of our own discomfort with one who’s afflicted, we may feel compelled to prattle incessantly. In that context, silence is preferable. Those seeking comfort at any cost, may find, in the end, it’s not a balm after all. C.S. Lewis understood, “In religion, as in war and 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.” There are those who’re unwilling to face the storms and vicissitudes of life, to brave the battle, exposing their soft underbelly-leaving them vulnerable and more miserable than before.
Affliction knows our address. Comfort’s a rare and costly commodity. It may at times masquerade itself for a season as affliction. The comfort of choice is as diverse as the affliction itself. Some find solace in a book. Music doth soothe the savage soul. Others cling to their pet. Distress, anxiety and suffering drive some to their drug of choice. The degree of cheer or comfort may be transient. 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 at bedtime.” Smart rabbit. Our race is adept at finding temporal potions and elixirs. Most have expiration dates, and a short shelf life. Urbane comfort is fleeting.
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. Jesus 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 were denounced with scathing rebuke, designed to afflict, characterizing them as hypocrites, evincing their feigned purity as “whitened sepulchers.” According to Jesus, they needed a harsh dose of truth. Unvarnished affliction. Their comfort was clinging to their traditions that actually trumped the Law, and afflicted others.
Like children, we seek a place of comfort and respite from conditions that assail us and disrupt our reverie. Most parents eventually learn that a constant dose of comfort is counterproductive to a balanced, healthy offspring-at the risk of rearing self-indulgent, layabout brat, turned loose on an unwary public. We needn’t afflict them. However, we must prepare them for the affliction that will come as surely as the sun rises tomorrow. It’s easy to conflate the need to comfort and taking away the pain. Comforting a parent who just lost their child doesn’t abrogate the pain. Comfort simply pulls up a chair beside the pain, until it ends. A hand on the shoulder transcends language barriers.
The universally known 23rd Psalm wasn’t penned 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; they rod and thy staff they comfort me.” It was His presence that comforted the shepherd boy. The Lord comforts us, not to make us comfortable, but to permit us to be comforters to others. Survivors from mass shootings or natural disasters are stunned in a fog of disbelief. Who could’ve prepared for such unparalleled affliction? Average citizens are vexed most by our daily existence, just navigating this earthly pilgrimage. What of existential threats from foreign assaults? We’re told the odds are remote. What about the internal threat of next month’s rent amidst this economic assault? Diminishing funds and increasing pressure. Or a life altering medical diagnosis one never saw coming. Longfellow wrote, “A Psalm of Life,” while rallying from a time of personal affliction, “In the world’s broad field of battle, In the bivouac of Life, Be not like dumb, driven cattle! Be a hero in the strife!”
There’s nothing wrong with that comfy, cozy corner or nook, where it feels good to us, augmented by one’s favorite beverage. 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 and opioids. “Safe spaces” may become a bunker from life, or worse. Neither wealth or life of privilege are an assurance of solace. When we are 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 as to what we need, how much, or when. That’s His realm. In this world of inevitable uncertainty, finding rest for one’s soul’s appealing. In the midst of burdensome affliction, Jesus hastens us to His bosom for comfort. There’s a nostrum for this predicament. In the real world, one can ill afford the quixotic drug of romantic secularism, that offers an optimistic answer to our human dilemma, with an insufficient foundation for doing so. Hope fades before sunset.
There are genuine reasons to toss and turn at night. Vacuous promises that fail to deliver, merely adding confusion to the pain. Denial’s a poor elixir to induce sleep. First, look to Him who promises to be with with us always. His promises have no expiration date. What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. His email’s firstname.lastname@example.org