I could live in sweatpants. I love them. I love their softness. I love how they stretch.
I am a lover of stretchy, beautiful, softness.
I love low-maintenace and raw.
I love comfort. And it tries to keep me from Christ.
This past Advent, I was on retreat, attempting to walk just a couple of steps closer to Christ before Christmas. Inclement weather had forced me to stay in my apartment for the weekend. I was super angsty and annoyed because I was supposed to have travelled to Michigan and had a beautiful, cozy experience in one of my favourite chapels. I was going to drink the sweet, sweet java juice of a great coffee roaster that I enjoyed, and stay at a little house in the country. It was supposed to be all of the things that would make the perfect Advent retreat.
I am a comfort seeker.
“Aesthetically. It would have made the perfect Advent aesthetic retreat.” Christ whispered. And just like that, because I was desperate without even knowing it, God came with His truth and opened my eyes to (yet another avenue of) my sinful nature. I am a comfort seeker. I love feeling nice. And it’s often at the expense of a fuller relationship with Christ.
“Wait, wait.” My pride chimed in. “None of those things are BAD. Having a taste for good food, drink, and scenery is not a SIN. Beauty and feasting are GOOD.”
“Correct.” truth responded. “Unless they become the focus and keep you from your full commitment to God. And let’s be honest here. The external points to the internal”
Heart. Broken. Pride. Shattered.
As I started to unpack this reality, I became aware that this wasn’t an isolated thing, nor was it limited to a material scope. I mean, come on… I know very well that it’s not good to be attached to stuff. But what I hadn’t realized was that I was also attached to spiritual comfort, leadership comfort, comfort in pride that came across as work.
An "Augustine Past"
The litany of humility to me is beautiful…in theory. I have spent YEARS holding God at an arm’s length, without even knowing it. (Evil is sneaky like that.) To the average joe, I had a pretty typical conversion/reversion experience. I have what I like to call an “Augustine past.” A period of life where I did whatever I wanted, lived gratifying whatever whim caught my eye, and relished in filling my life with an attitude focused solely on harmful relationships, excessive drinking, and your movie-scene partying. Enter mercy and Love Himself.
Girl is raised in good home. Girl goes to University. Girl throws away dignity. Girl hits rock bottom. Girl meets Jesus in confession. Girl lets God change life. Girl walks away from sin. Or at least the “big ones.” I still held tight to my “little sins.” The things that weren’t allllllll that bad. I mean, I was praying (pretty regularly), I was attending Mass throughout the week, I hit up confession weekly and yet I had been blind to this massive roadblock on my spiritual journey.
The Sacramental checklist wasn’t cutting it.
I held tight to my idolatry of food and of craft beer. I clenched my fists around my identity as a laid-back, no-stress type of person. I revelled in my quick comebacks, sarcastic and cutting quips to my brothers, and my ability to get ready for work in 15 minutes to avoid losing precious sleep-in time.
I wasn’t really open to God taking over. I was still compartmentalizing Him. And the path of holiness that I so desperately wanted to be wide and accommodating to my personality and desires was asking me to give my head a good shake. “Enter by the NARROW gate; for the gate is wide and the way is EASY, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life and those that find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14) Could I really say no to myself? Everyday? Could I say yes to Him with even the smallest of humblings? Could I escape the pruning that was inevitable with choosing the narrow gate?
At The Roots
I started to recognize many things in myself that were all tied to this root sin of comfort/sloth: Procrastination. Lack of care for my body and minimal exercise. Rich and creamy diet. A desire for affirmation from colleagues and spiritual leaders throughout the greater Catholic community. Making sure that my voice was constantly heard in important conversations. All things that pointed me back to the now-obvious neon sign that was flashing over my head: “COMFORT SEEKER”.
I tried to look at things to blame it on. Childhood experience? Maybe in part. Biological makeup? I could see a couple of tendencies. But once again, truth itself let itself seep into the cracks of my searching, cracked heart with the loving answer:
Even post-conversion, the idea of freedom to me was still centred on loving the Trinity and Church, but also on living in the comfort of what my heart, emotions and personal tendencies found most favourable. I wasn't chasing God, I was chasing my own satisfaction, and this meant that the dignity I had been gifted with was being tossed aside, because I wasn't living in my purpose of seeking perfection.
Because seeking true perfection means seeking the narrow road and seeking discomfort. It means not belonging to even myself anymore, let alone my sinful passions. Even if they were good, there was a lot of material, spiritual and emotional indulgence that was forming a nice high wall that was keeping me from the actual freedom that God wants for my life.
It comes down to a lack of focus and buying into distractions. I let the metaphorical stained glass captivate me so much that I became ignorant to the presence of God Himself. I was not keeping my eyes fixed on Him and waiting on His voice so that I may not waste a single second of this life in serving Him. I was not letting myself be His child, in both love and obedience. Because like the spiritual teenager I am, I love my parent, but I still wanted what I wanted while living at home. The irony in all of this is that getting uncomfortable and dying to self as much as possible, or choosing to even begin again each day seeking Him first and comfort second, inevitably leads to more joy and grounded-ness than any of the self-seeking I could ever accomplish in a lifetime.
God as Father is a daunting and beautiful thing. It’s as raw as I could ever desire. And while I am very used to talking with Him and reading about His love for me as daughter, it takes a certain level of trust to love myself as He loves me, especially when I know that love will drive me to that death of self that I am so good at avoiding.
The Prodigal Daughter
I loved being the prodigal daughter, and running back to a God who met me with open arms. I can give you that story front and back with my own life. But I had never once explored what happens to the Son following the feast. Because I like the feast. I don’t like moving from the feast. The feast is fun. The feast is good and right. That is, until you sit there too long. Work starts to get neglected. Comfort sets in. I’m pretty confident that the Father didn’t turn to his son and tell him that he never had to work again, but I thought for some reason this was how my life was going to continue. I came for my Father and I love Him desperately, but I’ve been focussed on that fatted pig He gifted me with. Because that’s how sin works right? Satan takes what is good and twists it and without rebuking this change, we start to desire the twisted version because it seems more interesting.
What. An. Asshole.
God does love the ways that we strive to serve Him and all of the little sacrifices that we give. He knows I’m not perfect and that if he presents me with 100 opportunities to say “no” to comfort during the day, chances are we will be discussing the 90-something number that I said yes to. But He wants a whole life of saying “no” to staying in our comfort zones. He doesn’t just want my weekly confession, Friday Adoration, or morning prayer. He wants my exercise. He wants me to choose the lesser choice when I’m buying things. He wants me to tithe when I’d rather try that new pizza place around the corner. He wants my undivided attention given to the people I come across in my busy moments. He wants constant encounter. It’s how a better life with Him is formed.
Thankfully He is a patient God, because everyday I have to start over. And everyday His mercies are new. So I’m covered. He’s given the tools for me to head back to the vineyard. And He gifts me with complimentary beauty that directs to Him, as all beauty should. He lets me enjoy my perfect French Press cup in the morning while calling me gently into the true energizing love of Scripture. He encourages feasting as I celebrate Holy Days with friends and family. He showers me with the gift of an incredibly loving and humble fiancé, and whispers that this is the best vocation for me die to self. Because at the end of my days, it will not be about the comfort of even the spiritual things, but how I turned them back to Him. How I used the gifts He had given, rolled up my sleeves and got uncomfortable in all of my imperfections as well as talents, so that He might be glorified.
Put on a Wedding Dress
This upcoming summer I will be waking up one morning to put on a wedding dress. Despite my mandatory demands of its dance-ability, it will also be very structured. I will not be able to lay on the floor with it, or do a somersault, or delight in its (non-existent) stretchiness. I will pay more attention to my makeup, hair, and nail polish than I ever had in my entire life. Not out of vanity, nor out of societal pressure. But because I know that I am presenting myself and answering a call from God that demands my yes, from my gift of heart, to my gift of beauty, to every gift in between. It demands the gift of discomfort and dying to self for the good of my spouse and the good of my children. And I will honour that by stepping out of my favoured , comfortable fabric and into something that says much more about the woman I am.
My husband deserves it. God deserves it.
And you deserve to live a life that isn’t spent gazing at all that God could have done, if you had simply taken a breath and a step out of your comfort zone. Pope Emeritus, his holiness Benedict XVI laid it out in an exciting way. “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” We’ve all heard it. We all love it. We all long for it to be how our own lives read.
Get out of your sweats. There’s something much greater to be put on.