What are your first associations with the word “comfort”? Comfort food? A big hug? A security blanket? Something you never got?
Knitters know a thing or two about tangible comforts. We like to wrap ourselves and our loved ones up in wool, and we like to curl up on a cold winter’s night with a warm drink of choice and our knitting our laps. So far this winter, comfort to me has meant a double layer of wool socks over cotton, a hand knit blanket, and a space heater that says “Comfort Zone” on it, quite accurately. I like positioning it right in front of the recliner, so that with my feet up, the hot air blows on my feet and up my ankles.
One of the major messages of Advent, and the one that I keep hearing this year, is the message of Isaiah 40: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” I first ran across it while looking up Advent hymns. Then we sang the same hymn on the second Sunday of Advent, and heard the whole passage read for the Old Testament. This made me think I should maybe sit up and pay a little more attention.
What do the words “Comfort Ye” mean for the grieving person? Or, to ask a question I can answer, what do those words mean to me as a grieving person?
My lesson for the weekend – and the reason this update is a day late – is that I am monumentally bad at receiving comfort. I run from comfort just as fast as I run from pain. This makes no sense, on the surface. Why run from comfort? Why run from a good thing?
Easy. Comfort requires trust. I have very good reasons for trusting almost no one, which I’m not going to expound here. But the real reason I don’t trust anyone is that I don’t trust God anymore. My trust in anyone else is founded in my trust in him. People will let me down, and I only have the confidence to weather that with charity if I can trust in the only person who won’t let me down.
The trouble is, he did. He let me down royally, three times. I prayed a prayer that he didn’t answer, and it about broke my heart. This makes it awfully hard to trust him. And frankly, I don’t think he blames me.
I should clarify – I do and I don’t trust God. I trust that God saves me, through Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection. I trust that he has a plan for my life, and that it will be meaningful and interesting. I just don’t trust him to give me what I ask for. I don’t trust him to make me happy in any way that I can immediately perceive. I trust that he wants my good and will effect it, but that “good” in his book might look like the path through the valley of the shadow of death. You know what I mean? I trust God enough that I know I’m a Christian and am confident in Jesus’ promises (this makes the sacraments wonderfully helpful to me); I don’t quite trust God enough to like, pray very much. Make sense?
Here’s the problem: “Comfort ye” is a command.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand
double for all her sins. ~Isaiah 40:1-2
I am barely even ready to hear this, let alone preach it. So I am going to give a short list of what I think this passage is saying to me.
1) Comfort is not the same as consolation. Comfort is being able to cry into someone’s chest and be held, and maybe feel a little better afterwards because you weren’t alone. Comfort is not making the pain or cold go away, it’s just an appropriate salve for a little while.
2) Comfort comes from a person to a person. It is not a fix; it is a hug. It’s relational, not mechanical. This makes it all the more difficult for me, but it means that it’s the thing that will keep me human.
3) Comfort is a step back from despair. I know what despair is. No matter how bad things get, they will not be as bad as they were back then. No matter how angry or hurt I am, there is hope. As cynical as I may wish to appear on this subject, just to distance myself from those people who say it to me with an oblivious smile on their faces, who I know have no idea what I’ve been through, it’s just true.
4) I’ve been through hell. Like, literally. But whatever I am going through does not mean that God hates me, or that he’s punishing me. Jesus took care of that on the cross. That is, in fact, a comfort.
I am done trying to interpret this. I’ve written at least three pages of material which I’ve deleted, because I can’t come to a good conclusion. I can’t come to a good conclusion because I am just at the beginning of hearing this message.
So what do you think? Can you cry when you need to? Do you have to cry alone, or can you cry with one or two safe people? Did you change? What does God’s message “Comfort Ye” mean to you?
In conclusion, I will share with you what always pops into my mind when I hear those two words: click here
2 thoughts on “Advent 4 – Comfort Ye”
I haven’t gone through your places of grief, but I get your paragraph on trusting/not trusting God. In fact, I’ve been trying to write the same thing for weeks. It’s a shocking thing to understand that my immediate happiness and comfortable life is not God’s primary (or secondary, or tertiary) goal. It’s an equally shocking thing to say it out loud, because I sound so utterly selfish. But there it is. As a living sacrifice, “good” may be suffering something for the good of the other, someone I might never meet. Am I willing to shoulder that?
I am respectfully wary. He’s not safe.
I remind myself a lot that God does love, and is not cruel. A man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, with a heart that broke over the state of his children. The whole, ask for bread, won’t get a stone, Heavenly Father thing. The reality of God being loving is a new revelation on my theological background, and it’s something I’m still getting used to. Even with that, I trust that he will always love, but I do not believe that love = ease. If it does, great – if it doesn’t, I hope I can say that it wasn’t about that anyway. Easier said than done.
Yeah… you are right, Kate. I try to remind myself of that bit in the Magician’s Nephew when the boy sees Aslan crying for his mother too. It’s easier to cry with someone who is even more sad about what you’re going through than you are.