Monday, 27 September 2010

Thinking about being comfortable


This morning, as the light slowly came, I lay in bed thanking God for being so comfortable. I had this soft pillow with a flannelette cover, just the right height for my head. I had a hot water bottle still warm from the night before (the evenings are chilly now) which felt lovely on my feet after I had been out into the garden to pick a sprig of rosemary to make a cup of delicious herb tea.

I have never heard any preacher extolling the virtues of being comfortable. I’ve heard more sermons than I can count challenging us to be uncomfortable, to get out of our comfort zones, assuring us that Jesus came to shake us out of being comfortable and that comfortable Christians are the lukewarm faithful of Laodicea that the Lord will spit out of His mouth. Though when I think about it, I never heard anyone who’d been a hospice chaplain preach that way.

Since my thirties I’ve struggled on and off with what was finally given a tentative diagnosis of fibromyalgia. All my life I’ve struggled with psychosomatic pains – pains in my teeth, pains down my arms and in my shoulders: they go when the stressors ease up. I have bad varicose veins and they can hurt quite severely at times. At the moment I have a frozen shoulder still, though the bursitis has abated. Since middle age I’ve had problems with fluid retention and very painful feet (I think they are telling me I need to lose weight).

It’s wearing, being in pain. Very relentless, and tiring. It leaves you less than your best. It makes it hard to be patient, to be thoughtful and kind, to be unselfish and to be interested in much.

There have been times when my body had simply forgotten what it felt like to be comfortable, to have no pain.

And because my psyche is a bit skew-wiff, there is the constant struggle against anxiety and dodging of depression, the eternal hunt to find a niche in which it is possible to live without becoming ill and overwhelmed. In the course of my life there have been many moments when I have been comfortable – but I prize them, and moments is what they have been.

I love being comfortable. Sitting in the sunshine, or by the sea, or by an open fire, curled up on a sofa or in bed with lots of pillows, warm and cosy. I love it.

I have cared for people whose daily existence offered no possibility of a comfort zone as such. Some of them stick vividly in the memory. The lady whose abdomen daily opened up new wounds as the cancer broke through; the lady who screamed whenever we came into her room in that awful nursing home, as she lay in her sores and oozing diahorrea; and Bernard, my previous husband, frightened as the illness stripped the skin from his mouth and throat and he knew he would die but not how long.

I listen to preachers who speak with scorn of being comfortable, and I wonder whom they know and care for, and what it feels like to be in their bodies and lives. Most of those preachers have been men, and most of them married. They are usually cooked for, cleaned for, do not do their own laundry or grocery shopping. The timbre of their voices is vigorous and convincing as they tell us we are all too comfortable, and that being comfortable is probably a sin. Hmmm.

My daughter Grace looked so tired last Sunday, as her very active toddler enthusiastically set about his weekly exploration of the chapel, dismantling the font and seeing which wires could be unplugged from the organ and climbing in and out of the pulpit. We did our best to keep him cheerful and occupied, but he is a busy child and does not take kindly to sitting still. And whispering? ‘OH WOW!!!’ is his favourite expression at the present time, and the books that hold his attention call for cries of ‘Baaa!’ and ‘Mooooooooo!’, and much snorting, barking and panting, plus the multi-clucking of one who has just laid a very fine egg.

Grace, I think, would have dearly loved a whole night’s sleep – a night that drifted on into morning where you could drowse on peacefully with the curtains still closed as all the world outside went to work, and then someone would bring you a cup of tea when they finally heard you beginning to stir. Her iritis still flares when she is very tired, and her back and hips are still not right from the problems she had in pregnancy when her over-enthusiastic hormones went to town on relaxing her ligaments. She is a breast-feeding peer-supporter and an active member of the National Childbirth Trust, and she goes along to the parenting classes at the Children’s Centre. So she meets lots of mothers with babies and toddlers from all over this town of 80,000 people; and picks up lots of germs. Since Mikey came into the world, his home and ours has hardly been free from a cold or gastric bug long enough to feel ready for the next one. We have one now.

‘Grace!’ (should the preacher say?) ‘It is a sin to be comfortable! The Lord will spit you out of His mouth! Get out of your comfort zone at once!’

Er … right… Where is it?

No. I think being comfortable is a blessing, an immense blessing. I’ve just sent off a pack of non-disposable sanitary towels for those poor ladies in Ethiopia whose husbands beat them because they thought they’d been unfaithful because they caught infections from using tampons fashioned from old newspapers so they could go out to work and help their families struggle out of poverty. I hope my tiny gift makes one woman’s life more comfortable.

This warm autumn morning I lay in bed enjoying the fresh air and the first notes of a blackbird singing through the open window. Eating dairy-free has seen off the fibromyalgia pain. Being able to work from home where I don’t have to stand all day or sit on chairs, but can either be active or sit with my feet up, means my varicose veins don’t give me much trouble. Having my family around me here in Sussex is cheerful and loving and happy. The frozen shoulder has subsided to what you might call a kind of friendly pain. I am worried about my writing deadlines, but just now I am not suicidal, anxious or depressed. I am married to the kindest, dearest man in the whole world.
Warm and peaceful, as the light rose and the bird sang, waking up slow with my hot water bottle and my soft pillow, with no pain anywhere in all my body, I gave thanks from the bottom of my heart for being so very comfortable.

Today, may God bless all parents who are bringing up their children in war zones and on the street, may God bless all patients who will be admitted into hospices for the last stretch of their journey, may God bless all inmates of overcrowded prisons and refugee camps and slums, may God bless street children and AIDS orphans, dalits and prostitutes and outcasts of every kind. May God bless the Archbishop of Canterbury as he wrestles with the hopeless struggle of intolerance in every camp of the divided Church of England. May God bless them, and give them His peace, and may today hold the gift of being more comfortable than they thought it was going to be.

I saw this quotation from Isaac Penington on the Tree of Life Musings blogspot, and loved it. I've altered it to apply to women instead of men - but it may find the hearts of men as well of course - after all, it was a man who said it :0)

Even in the Apostles' days,
Christians were too apt to strive after
a wrong unity and uniformity
in outward practices and observations,
and to judge one another unrighteously
in these matters;
and mark,
it is not the different practice
from one another
that breaks the peace and unity,
but the judging of one another
because of different practice.

For this is the true ground
of love and unity,
not that such a woman walks and does
just as I do,
but because I feel
the same Spirit and Life in her,
and that she walks in her rank,
in her own order,
in her proper way and place
of subjection to that;
and this is far more pleasing to me
than if she walked
just in that track wherein I walk.


Isaac Penington

Aye, I say 'Amen!'

This is a word that would bless the UK Anglican Communion as it struggles with its internal splits and wrangling.