The Carpenters 1971 song “Rainy Days and Mondays” charted at Number Two on the Billboard Hot 100. One poignant line is “What I’ve got they used to call the blues…” Many are subject to it now and then. Most get past it. When it persists, it may lead to despair. Despair can be momentary or a way of life. Affliction is sure to follow. Many are more adept at afflicting others. Fortunately, some are better at comforting. Comforting isn’t everyone’s gift. Too many are best at objurgating. Words can serve as a balm or a bane. In the face of our own discomfort with one who’s afflicted, we often feel compelled to prattle incessantly. In that context, silence is our nemesis. Those seeking comfort at any cost may find in the end it’s not a balm at all.
C.S. Lewis inimitably said, “In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will get neither comfort or truth-only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with, and in the end, despair.” We know those who are unwilling to face the storms and vicissitudes of life, to brave the battle, exposing their soft underbelly and leaving them vulnerable and miserable. Affliction knows our address. Comfort’s a rare and inestimable commodity. It may masquerade itself for a season as affliction. Frost reminds us courage doesn’t follow rutted paths.
The comfort of choice is as diverse as the affliction itself. Some find solace in a book. Music doth soothe the savage soul. Others clutch their pet. Distress, anxiety and suffering drive some to their drug of choice. The degree of cheer or comfort may be transient. Beatrix Potter, in her classic “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” describes a remedy: “Peter was not very well during the evening. His mother put him in bed and made him some chamomile tea: One table-spoonful to be taken at bedtime.” Smart rabbit. Our race is most adept at finding temporal potions and elixirs. Most have expiration dates and a short shelf life. Urbane comfort is fleeting.
To the casual observer of Biblical Christianity, Jesus is often mischaracterized as either a full-time comforter or a harsh afflicter. Neither are true. He comforted as only He can. He also afflicted those who deserved affliction. He comforted the woman trapped in adultery, forgiving her, and told her to “go and sin no more.” The Pharisees were denounced with a scathing rebuke, designed to afflict, characterizing them as hypocrites, evincing their feigned purity as whitened sepulchers. A harsh dose of truth was administered. Unvarnished affliction. Their comfort was clinging to their traditions that trumped the Law.
Like children, we too seek a place of comfort and respite from conditions that assail us and disrupt our reverie. Most parents eventually learn that a constant dose of comfort is counterproductive to a balanced, healthy offspring, at the risk of rearing a self-indulgent, layabout brat, turned loose on unwary onlookers. We needn’t afflict them. However, we must prepare them for the affliction that will come surely as the sun rises tomorrow. It’s easy to conflate the need to comfort and taking away pain. Comforting a parent after losing their child doesn’t abrogate the pain. Comfort simply pulls up a chair beside the pain until it ends. A hand on the shoulder transcends language barriers.
The universally known 23rd Psalm wasn’t penned in “sunny valley.” Verse four sets the context, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” It was His presence that comforted the shepherd boy. He comforts us not to make us comfortable, but to permit us to be comforters to others. One stunned victim from the Las Vegas shooting, still in a fog of disbelief, “I just went to the concert for a night of music and fun.” None could’ve prepared for such unparalleled affliction. However, average citizens are vexed most by quotidian events, while navigating this circuitous path. What of the existential nuclear threat from “Little Rocket Man?” We’re told the odds are remote. What about next month’s rent, and diminishing funds? Or life altering diagnosis one never saw coming? Longfellow wrote A Psalm of Life while rallying from a time of personal affliction,“In the world’s broad field of battle, In the bivouac of Life, Be not like dumb, driven cattle! Be a hero in the strife!”
There’s nothing wrong with that comfy, cozy corner or nook, where it feels good to us, augmented by our favorite beverage. However, we weren’t created for a reclusive life, immune from calamity or joy. Enough with the “selfie” perversion. Refrain from prolonged stays at the therapist, or dulling our senses with prescription drugs and opioids. “Safe spaces” may become a bunker from life, or worse. Neither wealth or a life of privilege is any assurance of solace. When we’re conflicted about which to seek-comfort or affliction-it’s not an either/or proposition. It’s a fact. They sell Lazy Boy rockers. They sell Total Gyms too. We needn’t spend time on only one. One’s for our comfort, the other for our affliction.
It’s understandable to lack the wisdom to know which we need, how much, how often, or when. That’s His realm. In this world of inevitable uncertainty, finding rest for one’s soul is appealing. In the midst of burdensome affliction, Jesus hastens us to find His comfort. There’s a nostrum for this predicament. Our bareknuckle, real world, one discovers, demands the radical unmasking of quixotic sophistry, that offers an escape ramp to nowhere. It’s too bad to be true. It only adds delusion to pain. What do you think?