Unlearn the Need for Comfort
Learn the Value of Adversity
This chapter from, The Art of Unlearning, is on something that has been both brutal and beautiful in my life: unlearning the demand to always be comfortable, and learning the absolute necessity of afflictions. Please leave your comments; I’d love to know your thoughts. You all can help shape this book’s final draft!
Last night, a seminary student of mine asked my advice for three different couples she’s working with, all of whom are facing a sexual addiction. This morning, I read a friend’s book about a long descent into opioid and alcohol addiction and an agonizingly slow climb out of it. I’m in the middle of a long stretch of work (over two weeks without a day off) that I try to avoid but sometimes fall into, and my addiction of choice is sugar. When I’m overly stressed and tired, when adrenaline has coursed through me during a long engagement and I’m off the stage, my brain begs for that sugar rush.
We’re all messed up in different ways, but if there’s one thing I’m more addicted to than sugar (which Lisa is working on), it’s comfort. I crave comfort. I seek comfort. I hate the lack of comfort. I organize my life to try to maintain comfort, but God makes that impossible, because he loves me.
That last statement—that God makes unbroken comfort impossible because he loves me—is something I’ve had to learn. The thought that unbroken comfort is a sign of God’s blessing and favor is something I’ve had to unlearn.
There is a major difference between “enduring” afflictions—sickness, aging, personal attacks, financial hardship, the death of loved ones, persecution—and believing that we need them. It took me decades before I understood that afflictions are necessary for a mature heart and soul. Far from resenting them, as I did for so long, I should be thankful for them. In the words of Puritan William Gurnall, “God’s wounds cure, sin’s kisses kill.”[i]
We are abundantly rebellious, which means we must at times be abundantly disciplined, which can be painful. Even this painful element leads to abundance, however. Dr. J.I. Packer writes that while there may be “disciplinary deprivation and chastening for unfaithfulness…the relationship itself is meant for blessing and enrichment.”[ii]
Affliction isn’t about God’s anger. It’s not to shame us. On the contrary, it’s to bless us and enrich us. Some might call this the blessing nobody wants, but God loves us so much he’ll give us what we need even if we resent him for it, because he always does what is best for us.
I’m not suggesting that all suffering is discipline, but it is just as foolish to suggest that no suffering ever involves discipline as it is to suggest that every act of suffering is discipline. We need afflictions for many reasons. What I had to unlearn is that they primarily come because of discipline. That’s just not true. They come to shape us, empower us, reveal God to us, make us more dependent on him, and complete us. “My father is the gardener…Every branch that does bear fruit he trims clean so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 15:1, 2).
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