Thursday, October 10, 2013

Giving up comfort

Different people sometimes have very different views and opinions about life. What life is about, what life is for, what you should do with your life. I was talking about this with a friend of mine while walking to dinner recently. His view of life is one that is held and even embraced by what I would consider to be a large majority of humans around the world, and yet his views were so different from mine. Even so, and quite unexpectedly, by having that conversation, I was able to learn a lot about myself and how I view life as a Christian. Never again will I belittle the significance of the act of initiating small talk on the way to dinner.

The conversation started normally enough, for a ragtag bunch of college students walking to dinner. We were talking about college life and what we were going to study that night and whatnot, and someone mentioned that college life was dull, with no excitement, and that college was just about studying all the time. The others seemed to agree, but I was astounded. INTI College, as a whole, seemed like quite a cheerful college to study in, to me. You know, friendly lecturers, cool classmates, interesting syllabi, and a couple of ping pong tables too. How could they possibly find college life dull? I asked one of them what he thought was an exciting life. He answered, half in jest, that an exciting life was about playing video games and killing virtual terrorists. Everyone laughed, because he was joking, after all. I used to be a video game junkie myself, so I understand where this is coming from. But jokes are often used as a cover for when you don't know what to really answer. So I pursued this train of thought.

I asked my friend a question: Which would you choose, a life of comfort where you don't have to work and everything just comes to you, or a life where you have to work? He answered that he would choose the life of comfort. For some reason, I just couldn't accept that. I have since realised, of course, that part of human nature just wants its comfort and doesn't want to get out there into the dangerous working world. But it didn't seem right to me. I didn't say anymore on the subject, but I had been given enough to think about that I was quite silent for the rest of the walk.

We didn't actually argue over any of this, but it gave me a lot to think about, and I argued it out within the confines of my own head for quite a while. Eventually I realised that I had been quite unfair in judging my friend in that way. There wasn't any actual conflict between us, but in my head there was, and I wanted to resolve it. I managed to do so by explaining to him the next day (also on the way to dinner) that because of my Christian lifestyle, I have a different worldview, and willingly give up my comfort for the sake of glorifying God.

Some of you may be Christians reading this, and you may disagree that being a Christian entails discomfort. Maybe you've learned the Prosperity Gospel. Maybe you're a young or new Christian, and have never thought about going out of the way of your comfort zone for Jesus. Now, I'm only 18, and far be it from me to try to act all holier-than-thou and give myself cred and fab by pulling out Bible verses. But I do have a few verses that at the very least support the idea that we are to risk our comfort for Jesus. For instance,
Luke 9:23: Then [Jesus] said to them all: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." (NIV)
Based on my understanding, taking up one's cross gives the idea of going through difficulty, and willingly. For Jesus, taking up His cross meant dying by crucifixion on the cross He carried Himself, and so He died for our sins that we might live. Willingly.

Another possible Bible passage for this argument, possibly less in magnitude but still applicable, is Luke 18:18-23. The rich young ruler and Jesus. A young and rich Jewish leader asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life. He had kept all the commandments in the Pentateuch since he was small. Jesus said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." Jesus was asking a lot from this young man. He couldn't do it. He went away sad, for he was very rich. It wasn't enough for Jesus that the young ruler was a law-abiding Jew who kept all the commandments. Jesus wanted him to go out of his way and love those who were less fortunate than him; and in so doing, ultimately give up his riches, his security, his comfort.

Now, I'm not saying that all discomfort is right. Discomfort caused by unjust political oppression is not to be taken lightly. Nor are we to deprive ourselves for the empty purpose of lessening some emotional pain, in place of actually trying to resolve it. In the two passages I mentioned above, Jesus is talking about a very special act of giving up one's comfort. It is an act where we give up our personal comfort for the benefit of people other than ourselves, no matter how much it may inconvenience us. There is a very special word for giving up comfort in this way. It's called "sacrifice".

Now that the magic word has been introduced, hopefully the idea of giving up comfort no longer seems so unattractive to some of you. "Sacrifice". It's a word that we've heard many times, especially in context of what our parents have done for us, what friends are to do for us, and ultimately what Jesus has done for all of humankind. For each of us, our parents, whether biological or not, have sacrificed a lot of time, energy and comfort in working to sustain the family, giving us an education and bringing us up lovingly. Friends, especially those who are sincere and true, give up a lot for each other all the time, going the extra mile for one another.

On a much larger scope, Jesus allowed Himself to be led up the hill where he was murdered on the cross, so that the sins of all people on earth might be forgiven. We call that the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus sacrificed his own life, so that we may have eternal life in heaven. This principle of sacrifice is not an easy one to live out, but it's one that I try hard to do everyday. I try my hardest to help out my friends, and not just when it's convenient for me, but even when it requires some sacrifice. I am still not able to sacrifice my comfort for my friends all the time, and sometimes I'm selfish. But I will try, all the time, not to make myself the most important person in my life. Everyone else becomes more important than myself. Life feels better that way. How I feel is, when you live to please yourself, you're working for someone who will never be satisfied. But when you live to help those whom you love, you're working for those who love you back, appreciate you, and give you significance.

I may be a bit "off-the-mark" on this next point. But I hope to some day be and have a family. I guess I make sacrifices for my future family, too. I study hard so that I will someday be able to be a good doctor, and sustain a family as well as help out patients who come to me when they're sick. This means that here in college, I don't fool around unnecessarily, and I have to give up video games and sometimes even sleep (although I don't advise losing sleep). I have a goal to reach, and I will sacrifice comfort today in order to reach it in the future. At the end of the day, I want to glorify God in my life, and I can do so through my job and my family. But I won't be able to get there without some sacrifice.

At the end of the day, humans are selfish and desire comfort for themselves. I am no exception, and no one is an exception, really. Because I'm human, all I can do is try always to be less selfish and more outward-looking, but if I'm not careful, that selfish little imp inside me will jump back out again and start trampling all over my life. Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant church, once said that sin is the self bending in on the self. It's a vicious cycle, fuelling a painful flame that is always hungry. But when we become less important in our eyes, and everyone else becomes more important, the cycle breaks. I truly think that life is better like that. Perhaps you disbelieve me? Why not give it a try, for a day, a week, or a month? You may be surprised by what you experience, putting others above yourself, and giving up comfort for their benefit.

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