When faced with so many daunting tasks and future moments of uncertainty, I can sense my mind automatically seeking out places of comfort. It is such a natural reaction, that I don’t think it could be described as escapist idolatry–unless, of course, I were to completely throw myself into it and never look back. And I must say, the temptation is strongly there.
The instinct is to find a place of refuge that is bulletproof. The instinct and ensuing drive could see me wallowing in memories, books, music, art, architecture, nature, movies, shows, etc., or find me dreaming of travel to find that perfect community where I can spend the rest of my life living simply and being just fake enough to stay friends with the neighbors.
So many things present themselves as being potential foes of the perfect place of refuge: strangers, new places, new things to do, new presidents, any number of unexpected life changes that are beyond my control. Of course, there are times like when I decide to travel where I willfully take on a certain amount of newness for the sake of hopefully discovering some greater place of refuge and comfort. Most of the times when I was unhappy with my life circumstances I was probably experiencing the very refuge and comfort I would later crave.
I was no different than anybody else. If I was experiencing something good, then surely there was something better than this to be experienced somewhere.
Are these mental habits that can be changed through much prayer, meditation and discipline? Can I simply sit and try to change the direction of my will, from being self-centered to Other-centered, from being a taker and consumer to a giver and producer? Life certainly tries to change this direction. Being a husband and father naturally means that I must be less self-centered to some degree. However, there are many days where it feels like I am trying to make the needle of a compass stay pointed in the opposite direction, and it just flips itself right back. I don’t know if this is due to habitually learned behavior, lingering childish inclinations, or my intrinsic nature. I hope it is not the last one, but at this point in my life, I am not completely sure.
It doesn’t make me feel especially great to think that I am sitting on more wealth and material possessions than I really need. The things that I do have I keep around mostly out of sheer laziness–I don’t want to think about the effort required to meaningfully give them away to someone who really needs the stuff. I have many times over just filled up boxes and hauled them off to Goodwill, but I don’t know if that’s the best way to make sure your stuff makes it to someone who can really benefit from it.
Then, I also think about my intellectual possessions–the knowledge and wisdom I’ve obtained. While I may not always be the most exemplary individual when it comes to putting such wisdom into practice, I yet feel compelled to share it with anyone who cares to listen and benefit from it. I especially wish that I could offer comfort and solace to people who are contemplating suicide and ones who are suffering from the abuse of others. I wish that I could give them a safe space, both physical and mental to where they can begin to feel like they will be okay.
I have tired of paying excessive attention to what is happening in our government and in the Christian community. Our country has a history of being inhospitable to the Other, and at times genocidal, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we have favored someone who will continue to be inhospitable for the sake of making ones who are now in the minority feel a little safer.
Part of me insists that I may be going about my will toward comforting things in a completely incorrect fashion. I may not be honoring this need and providing the right kind of self care to address it. It could be my endless attempts to be a tougher, more outgoing person who tries to get out of his comfort zones are what is preventing the itch from ever being completely scratched. Maybe there is a yin and yang or some other duality within me that needs to be properly addressed. Moments of pure comfort seeking and self indulgence should be sought as such, without any guilt or shame or looking over my shoulder at work that I should be doing for others. Likewise, when I throw myself into doing something where I am in the role of the giver and servant, I should be immersed in it completely without secretly yearning or longing for a vacation.
However, I would argue that when considering the majority of my attempts to accomplish anything at all in this life, I have been mostly prone toward retreating into my world of comforting memories and ideas. The idea of spending a weekend walking in the park, going to the public library and rummaging through books, and throwing back a few beers while watching a movie is much more appealing than a weekend of volunteering in three different places, going to church, working on homework or other work, jogging and going to the gym, etc.