Chaplain's thought for the week
Risking growth over security
If you were starting a new religion, a philosophy, or political movement, how would you go about promoting it? You might tell people that it would solve all of their problems; you might say that it would give people a much easier, less stressful life; you might say that it would lead to lasting happiness. You probably wouldn’t say that following your movement would be risky – even dangerous – and anything but comfortable.
It’s interesting then that when Jesus advertises following him, he says these words: ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’ He doesn’t make it sound attractive, comfortable or safe.
As humans we have a natural – and understandable – drive towards comfort and safety. But, of course, there is more to our lives than these things. Because if those things really were the most important aims of human existence, then we wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. Much more comfortable to stay there, where it’s warm and cosy and we don’t have to do any work. Much safer, too: no danger that we’ll get run over by a bus or bullied or fail in any way.
The Jungian analyst James Hollis suggests that each day when we wake up in the morning we find ourselves facing two gremlins at the end of our bed: one called Fear and the other Lethargy. The first, Fear, says to us: ‘Don’t go out into the big wide world. It’s scary out there: there’s failure, there’s hard work, there’s nasty people.’ And that’s where the second gremlin, Lethargy, kicks in: ‘Hey, just stay in bed. Pick up your phone and watch some Netflix, scroll through your social media feeds.’
Each day we need to choose to prioritise bigger values than safety and comfort – otherwise we’d just stay right there in bed. Because those two gremlins, Fear and Lethargy, are correct: the world is often a scary place, and doing something good is not always safe or comfortable… This is why binge watching Netflix or spending hours on video games is so appealing, and not just to teenagers: we get to sit in the comfort of our homes being entertained by all the action and drama going on elsewhere. In order to really live our lives, however, we need step over our fears, we need to get over our desire for safety and comfort, and step out into adventure.
All the great stories of the world have this kind of theme in them. Take, for example, The Hobbit. We meet Bilbo Baggins who lives in a hole: ‘not a nasty, dirty wet hole… but a hobbit hole, and that means comfort.’ Hobbits aren’t supposed to have adventures or do anything unexpected. Their lives are comfortable and orderly. At the start of the story this is how we find Bilbo: standing outside his front door with his long wooden pipe which nearly reaches his woolly toes (which are neatly brushed). And along comes Gandalf, a wizard, and this all leads Bilbo – very reluctantly – to begin an adventure which will challenge him, make him far less comfortable but also be the making of him. He has to lose his comfort and security in order to really live his life.
This is in part what Jesus means when he says: ‘Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life… will save it.’ He’s saying that, yes, we can be comfortable, and happily entertained and have lots of pleasant experiences… but if we really want to live our lives, we will need to risk all of that. Life calls us to something far bigger than comfort and security, or short-term happiness and pleasure.
What for you are the bigger values than safety and comfort?
When real adventure for a higher purpose comes knocking at your door, will you return to the safety of the hobbit hole, or will you step out into something a bit more risky but potentially far deeper?