“Resist comfort.” I heard those words on a chilly evening last fall in a chapel on Lookout Mountain. Our Fellows class was gathered with the other Fellows programs in Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama for the annual Micah 6:8 retreat. The day’s programming had gone on longer than planned. I watched as the trees in the chapel window faded slowly from orange to black, and stars blinked awake in the sky. There was only one more event on the program to keep us from s’mores, a bonfire, and snuggling into our sleeping bags.
The final event was a panel of community leaders from Chattanooga speaking on the work they do to fight for Justice. One of the speakers was Mimi Nikkel the Founding Director of an organization called Love’s Arm , which seeks to “engage, empower, and transition women survivors of trafficking, prostitution and addiction toward a Christ-centered community of grace.” Near the end of the panel she said, “If you can take anything that I say and carry it with you, it is to resist comfort in your life.” I was struck by the simple charge, feeling equally convicted and cringing at its implication for my life.
Rewind to December 2019, I had just graduated from college and was brimming with hope and excitement for my future. I had a job with a Christian arts nonprofit that I loved, an apartment with a group of Christian girls who also worked in the arts, and the newfound freedom of no more homework and writing essays. I was relieved that I wasn’t questioning my calling anymore, and that I had seemingly skipped the hard years of figuring my life out as a young adult. I thought I had it all figured out and was excited to coast on the comforts I had gained after hard years in college.
You know the familiar story of 2020. Things did not go as planned. The comforts that I cherished were taken away, and I moved back in with my parents, tried to find a new job, and had to start sorting through my old plans to figure out what role they would play in the new reality of a pandemic world. I was mad at God that I would have to work all over again to find stability and comfort. I was back at square one, wanting desperately to hold onto everything I lost.
Back in the little chapel on Lookout Mountain, Mimi Nikkel spoke about rescuing women from human trafficking, speaking the truth boldly, and loving in difficult circumstances. “Resist comfort.” You cannot love like that if you won’t step out of your comfort zone. I longed for God to use me even in a tenth of the way that He is using Mimi, but that kind of walk with God requires a discomfort that I did not feel ready to embrace. My heart was bitter and sad for all that I had lost in the pandemic. I wanted to cling to every last luxury I had in my life, not give anything more up in obedience to God. In my desire to find an easy road to walk, I found I had little love to extend to others. I was more wrapped up in finding a way to soothe my pain than to follow Christ when it means more suffering.
But I am learning, in my year of Fellows, to better endure discomfort. In the past few months, there have been days when I dread going into work. I will lay in bed with the covers over my head, pleading to God, “Please let today be better than I expect,” and “I’m so scared to go into work. Please help me,” and “I don’t have the strength or energy to get everything done that I need to. Will you give me what I need?” And to my surprise and joy I have watched as God answers my prayers throughout the day.
There is deep kindness and strength that the Holy Spirit offers in my discomfort. When I embrace discomfort, I can boast in my own weakness and open myself up to things I know I cannot do on my own and let God work through me. One of our Fellows teachers, David Whitehead, says, “Leadership is often an exercise in pain management,” because we cannot grow when we are comfortable. This paradigm is helping me embrace the difficulties in my life, knowing that God is shaping me in love through the pain. I am starting to pray tentative prayers of thanks to God for knocking over so many of my comforts through the pandemic. It is a strange gift to have nothing to comfort or ease the pain, except to run into the arms of the Father. He is slowly but surely weaning me off of every comfort that I thought would soothe me.
I was recently reminded of the first question and answer in the Heidelberg catechism, when Dr. Alan Noble spoke to our Fellows class about his new book You are Not Your Own , which takes its title from the catechism. The words have filled me with a reminder of the one true comfort that I can rest in even as I learn to resist all other comforts.
What is your only comfort in life and in death?
That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death— to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.