Dictionary.com defines the American Dream as a “life of personal happiness and material comfort as traditionally sought by individuals in the U.S.”
The Bible doesn’t provide an inclusive, single-line definition of Christianity, but if you add up all of Christ’s and the apostle’s statements about following Christ, Christianity doesn’t sound anything like the American Dream.
Yet we often mistakenly connect the two.
If “all is well,” then we MUST be in God’s will. If not, well… So we seek our own comfort and equilibrium and add to them some Bible study and good works and assume this is how it is meant to be.
But is it? Jesus had pretty strong words about pursuing God and ANYTHING. “You can’t do it,” He said. “You will hate one and love the other. You will be devoted to one and despise the other.”
I really like my comfort, both the physical—not too hot, not too cold, three meals a day (with snacks in between)—and the emotional. I like peace and people to be happy with me. I like neatness and calm and good health for everyone I love.
There isn’t necessarily anything “wrong” with those desires
But they certainly don’t contribute to growth in my soul. They don’t take me closer to God. They don’t reveal my sin to me or make me grateful. They don’t help me love others.
The American Dream takes really good care of my body, but it’s dangerous for my soul.
And DIScomfort, in a strange way, makes me grow.
When the New Testament was being written, most believers didn’t have to PURSUE discomfort. They already had it. They were being thrown out of synagogues and beaten by mobs. A few years later some of them were being eaten by lions. That’s still continuing. Worldwide there is more persecution of Christians than at any other time in history. These believers don’t need to pursue discomfort; they need to be encouraged by all the verses in the New Testament that tell them God will work in and through it.
Even in our comparatively persecution-free Western church, there are many who are in great discomfort, struggling with health/emotional/relational issues or lost loved ones (and only in the Western church do some assume distress is a sign of God’s disfavor). But for many, perhaps most, western-world Christ followers, “Comfort plus Christ” IS an issue. How do we live in our surrounding comfort without pursuing it—or worshiping it? How do we have empathy for those who are hungry, thirsty, imprisoned, and mistreated when we haven’t ever really experienced those things ourselves?
I don’t know.
But I’ve been asking the Holy Spirit to reveal areas in which comfort (or my love of it) is inhibiting my love for Christ and others. I’ve been praying that the Lord would direct me TOWARD the kinds of discomfort that will increase my growth.
Over the last couple years He has led me to “small decisions,” like reading fewer books for “fun” and more that stretch my view of Him or make my heart ache; like Dave and I choosing to watch movies like Slumdog Millionaire on date nights even though we know we won’t sleep right afterwards. It’s also affecting “bigger” areas: my friendships, our household and family, our finances/giving, my free time.
There is a strange balance of obedience and listening in this pursuit of discomfort: my selfishness resists the calls to put others before myself, but my pride can easily turn discomfort into an idol. I don’t want to pursue discomfort simply for discomfort’s sake, so I have to listen very, very carefully to the Holy Spirit’s leading; always, always saturate my prayers with Scripture; and check my heart condition regularly.
That’s a lot of effort. But I’m finding that it is making a difference. I’m more grateful, more mindful of others who have less or who live with horrors I can’t even imagine. I’m less timid and better able to see others as fellow Image-created beings in need of a Savior. I’m more aware of my own selfishness.
So do you want to pursue discomfort with me?
Ask the Lord to shake you up a bit, to make you extra receptive to the Spirit’s nudgings. He may direct you to talk—really talk—to a person holding a “will work for food” sign. Or engage a visiting Jehovah’s Witness in conversation and ask, kindly, who they think Christ really is. Or volunteer at a soup kitchen. Or consider a truly sacrificial gift. Or even simply learn the name of your regular grocery store clerk or barista and write him/her a note of encouragement.
I don’t know how the Holy Spirit will direct you.
I don’t know how He will use it in the grander scheme of your life.
But I do know that He will.