Tuesday, 28 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.


Ganeida said...

Oh Ember! You are so right. My husband suffers chronic pain. It is very wearing ~ on both of us! ☺ Well I remember chasing after 5 little ones!

I do not think too many of us are smug physically ~ especially as we grow older, but we can get very stuck in a spiritual comfort zone ~ at least, I can. I really dislike being shifted! It is harder because I am deeply insecure so when I go against the flow, which happens a lot *sigh*, I end up double guessing myself all over the place.

Ministering to the chronically ill & the dying is exhausting ~ & I have only had to do it a couple of times!

Still, I can't ever complain that walking with the Lord is dull!!!

Anonymous said...

I said a similar prayer myself this morning as I sat round the breakfast table in our conservatory with my 3 kids. Conscious of the lovely Autumn weather, garden-green, bluetits feeding outside the window, coffee and bagels to eat, relaxed conversation with happy children at 9 o'clock on a Tuesday morning. I revelled in the luxury of autonomous homeschooling, of good health, good food and a good home. I am rich beyond measure and grateful for every moment!

Anonymous said...

You are amazing! Thank you.

Pen Wilcock said...

Lovely to hear from you, ladies


LightBulb_88 said...

Hi Ember, I have been reading your blog with interest for a short while now and simply thought I might say hello and thank you for the interesting gems you share :) God bless. -Danielle.

Pen Wilcock said...



Hi Danielle!

Buzzfloyd said...

Thank God for love in the discomfort zone!

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes indeed!

seekingmyLord said...

I have been giving this post a great deal of thought. You see, I had moderate to severe back pain for six years that started when I was still in my twenties. I honestly thought that I would live with hindering degrees of pain for the rest of my life. The Lord brought about my healing in the way of health education and gifts.

Was that suffering worth it since the outcome was beneficial to more people than just myself later on...it certainly did not seem so at the time, but now in retrospect, yes, I would have chosen it if given the choice, because I remember the people who were also in agony being helped from what the Lord taught me. But I realize also that is so much easier to say after I have lived through that pain and now not to have it. I do not even have the flare ups I used to have for no apparent reason about four times a year, which were sharp reminders of what I used to live through daily and helped me to stay thankful.

When at its worst, I remember how much of a blessing it was to have one day of a lower pain level, or even of not having to move for just an hour because movement hurt so much.

Ember, you will be in my prayers.

Pen Wilcock said...

Thank you! :0)

Warning. For those neither interested in diet nor in finding dietary solutions to pain, this comment may be intensely boring!!

There were two texts I found especially helpful in understanding pain and how to eliminate it. One was Christiane Northrup's book 'The Wisdom Of Menopause', in which there's a section relating to diabetes that explains about cells and inflammation and pain and nutrition and how they are all linked. The other is a book by Tom Monte called 'Unexpected Recoveries'. It's a great book all round, but his chapter on diet is especially good. He adopts what one might call a toned-down macrobiotic approach; so it has the benefits of macrobiotic diet but works better in normal society than what's recommended by macrobiotic afficionados who get a bit obsessional at times.
I get little or no pain these days. What has fixed me is: no dairy, no meat, no citrus, very low amounts of raw tomato, no coffee no strong tea, no alcoholic beverages, very low fat food. And I keep sugar (& refined carbohydrate) intake low, because sugar is a no-no for depressives (it sets the peak-trough pendulum swinging because it is too refined and concentrated)
If I eat fatty food, or too much dried fruit or more than 2 cups a day of Earl Grey tea, it comes back - fluid retention, joint pain, acid reflux, fibromyalgia the whole works.
The way I eat is difficult for social eating, which is why I do include fish - I have no adverse effects from it and fish with veggies is easy enough to get in most places, provided one can disuade them from adding lashings of butter!
I have no ill effects from eggs, but don't eat them because I object to the mass gassing of day old chicks that is involved to create and maintain a large female flock - the surplus males have to be wasted.

seekingmyLord said...

Yes, diet is one of the main things with nearly all types of pain, even same nerve-based pain as I had. I am so glad the Lord has led you to find what will help you in eliminating acidic foods in your diet.

One thing that works for me in regards to general pain is fasting and I just came off a long fast a few weeks ago so I am feeling much better physically, although I was not feeling particularly bad, but those little aches and pains seem to just sneak up slowly so you really don't notice how many you really have until you get a break from them.

The biggest problem with helping people improve their health and encourage healing, in my experience, is helping them to having self-discipline, particularly in their diet. It seems you have less of a challenge in that than most...not saying it is easy for you, but that you seem to be a determine and purposeful woman in that regard.

Pen Wilcock said...

Ooh. Thank you for that thought! It's a very long time since I did any fasting. Our family is still in a muddle - the housemoves of our grand family reconfiguration are still going on and we still are still working through the consequences (builders, finance, legal matters, sorting out furnitures and possessions between the dwellings we have settled and and settling in etc etc), but once that all coalms down, some fasting could be part of a regime of peace that will be very cleansing and strengthening, body and soul. Good thought!

As to self-discipline, well I have little of that but I have been on the naturopathic trail since I was sixteen, so I have gradually learned what to do even if I am neither disciplined nor intelligent in applying it!