The lie is ingrained so deeply in my heart that I have to make conscious efforts to untangle my life from its clutches. This lie clutters my home, my very soul—the one that says comfort and contentment are one.
Life in the Middle East was anything but comfortable, any sense of ease in life gone. Tasks I did mindlessly in America took a new effort that made everyday errands mentally exhausting.
Walking through the dusty streets, careful to retrace my steps so I didn’t lose my way back home, I made my way to the internet café. Our internet was supposed to be set up in our flat weeks before but we learned that “tomorrow” often meant “whenever we get around to it” there. Connecting to loved ones became a calculation of time zones and schedules, balancing dropped internet calls and dicey sound.
At the fruit stand my broken Arabic brought smiles and raised eyebrows but I succeeded in getting the bananas I needed, though I still wasn’t really sure how many kilos to ask for when my mind thought in pounds. The smell of baking bread drew me a few streets over to where aish, small wheat flatbreads we bought fresh daily, were being taken out of the scorching oven with a wooden paddle and placed into the bags waiting to be taken home.
I climbed to our fourth-story flat, dodging the cats nestled up in the corners of the stairwell and jiggling the big metal lock on the heavy wooden door. I turned on the oven since it took so long to heat up as I flipped the switch on the electric kettle. As I waited for the water to heat for my afternoon tea, I opened the window at the end of the narrow kitchen.
The sounds of children playing and pots banging echoed as I removed the clothes from the washer nestled between the stove and the refrigerator and balanced my body half way out the window to hang them from the clothesline that hung precariously over the courtyard. I sighed into my tea and thought of how comfortable life had been before, how I had taken for granted how much work normal tasks would take in this place.
It was in that uncomfortable place, where everything from the language to how to cook rice was foreign to me, that I learned that comfort and contentment aren’t one and the same. They so easily masquerade as synonymous, especially in Western culture.
Life had always been comfortable for me, even as a child growing up with less than many of my classmates. It didn’t dawn on me until adulthood that my comfort as a child was ensured by my dad’s multiple jobs and my mom working nights. I always saw this comfort as one of the sources of my happy childhood.
It was being plunged into life in the developing world that opened my eyes to the truth behind Paul’s words in Philippians chapter four about learning to be content whatever the circumstances. They had always been trite words about a far away world to me, poetic sentiments about enduring through persecution or need.
When I came face to face with an uncomfortable life I understood that doing all things through God who gives me strength didn’t mean I could do anything I wanted because He made me strong. That was another lie I had always believed. It meant that I could find contentment in whatever situation God placed me in, that whatever He wanted I could do through His strength. I learned that comfort and contentment were actually not related at all.
Living back in a land where ease seems to be the ultimate goal yet happiness is so elusive, I see the stark contrast between comfort and contentment but easily get sucked back into the lie. When I stand at the aisle the offers every assortment of bread I could possibly hope for I forget the smell of freshly baked aish. When I try to ease the clutter that pours out of every room but there always seems to be more, I can let security masquerade for contentment a little while longer.
As I sort through toys and books to give away and box up more than we need, I continue the work of untangling the lie. I ask God to show me what looking to the Comforter instead of comfort looks like, to remove whatever false sense of independence He needs to in my life to make me understand my dependence on Him. As I willingly choose less, I am reminded how much more I have waiting for me to lay claim to.