Sometimes in my sermons, I feel the need to tell my congregations, “Bear with me, this is going somewhere…I promise.” Sometimes to fully make a point, you have to offer seemingly disparate points, before pulling the string that suddenly and unexpectedly ties those disparate pieces together into something cohesive. This, I think is going to prove to be one of those times.
“Bear with me, this is going somewhere…I promise.”
Comfort is a funny thing. As a matter of fact, as I sit here this afternoon, I find that comfort is a well, uncomfortable thing and I’m thankful. On the one hand, I’m sitting here in my office watching my fish (Tertullian and Athanasius), even as I write this, hoping that they’re comfortable. I hope that the water condition suits them, that they enjoy the colder temperatures of my office (they’re Orandas, they ought to). I hope they’re comfortable with their food because, well, Tertullian, in keeping with his namesake is a bit of grump and likes to spit his food out. But all in all, I think that they’re comfortable.
As I think about it, I’ve taken many steps to insure my comfort as I sit here. My legs are atop my desk as I sit here with the laptop in my lap. I have my coffee within easy reach which makes me both happy and comfortable. I have 80’s music playing in the background because I’m addicted to cheese and it’s comfortable. I have a space heater running in my aforementioned chilly office, because while I enjoy cooler temps, my basement office if left as is, is too uncomfortable. And then of course, there’s my greatest comfort of all, which I got to experience when I went upstairs a few minutes ago to refill my coffee, a nice, long hug from my beautiful wife.
All of those things are awesome and certainly not the uncomfortable kind of comfort I was referring to earlier, no, the discomfort I mentioned is pretty deep within. As I had mentioned in my previous post, I have found myself growing increasingly empathetic with my fellow brethren in ministry, it’s funny how walking in their proverbial shoes can do that. I continue to be amazed at what a learning experience the past two and a half years as a pastor has been. The ease with which comfort can overcome is truly frightening to me.
I can remember pretty clearly the first day about seven and a half years ago when I first realized that I felt differently, perhaps miraculously so. As a lot of you know, I struggled with a pretty horrific disease resulting from an injury that took a good decade from the prime of my life. It’s a disease that has no cure and whose nature is to continually worsen, and I can remember so clearly the realization that something within my body might have changed. I can also remember the flood of doubt, the rationalizations that were exploding in my head as to why it would be better, safer, and more comfortable to stay in bed, despite the desperate screams from someplace even deeper within, “Get up!”
I look at that time and perhaps I’m guilty of romanticizing it a bit too much, perhaps I’m guilty of putting meaning where there was/is none (in my most honest, most uncomfortable moments, I tend to believe I’m guilty of minimizing it), but looking back at that time, I find myself a little bit horrified that there was a significant part of me that felt it would be easier, safer, and more comfortable to stay flat on my back.
More comfortable living that pathetic existence, than to risk getting up. Perhaps it was the fear of failure, of being made to look like a fool, a fear of shattered hope which has a tendency to cut much deeper than any physical pain, perhaps it was all that and much more. Who knows at this point? But back to the point of being fearful of “romanticizing” the moment all these years later, I feel certain looking back, I feel certain deep down, that the door that had cracked open that day was only going to be open for a short period. Fail to walk through on that day, in that moment, and perhaps that door would have been slammed shut forever, forfeiting an opportunity to defeat an impossible, unbeatable captor. The one moment in time when it forgot to lock my cell and turned its back.
“Get up!” Two little words made the comfort of my prison so supremely uncomfortable, that despite my fears, my reasoning, and every piece of rationality that I possessed; I got up and the rest as they say is history. Within two years of that day, I was symptom free, and here I am some seven years later on the verge of graduating seminary and doing flat out crazy stuff in the gym :)
On an interesting aside that might have some deeper meaning, I’ll leave it to you to decide, my mother recently asked me if there are any times when I still have issues; and there is. If the arm that was originally affected (both eventually became consumed by this disease) gets really cold and I mean crazy, borderline dangerous cold (don’t ask how I figured this out lol), the hell that I lived in for a decade comes rushing back, full force. The same pain, the same symptoms, almost everything except the mottling of my skin. Thankfully, as my arm warms, the symptoms completely dissipate and I’m no worse for the wear. However, it does prove a painful reminder of where/what I came from. Perhaps more importantly, it provides a pretty powerful reminder that on that morning when “Get up!” rang out in the depths of my soul, I somehow found the idea of that hellish, crushing pain more comfortable than to risk defeating and rising above it.
So I know if you’ve made it this far, you are wondering what any of this has to do with anything, especially pastoring and empathy, and I will tell you as I did in the beginning…
“Bear with me, this is going somewhere…I promise.”