A few months ago, I was traveling in Kansas City for two days of meetings with a ministry. My evening was free so I decided to go to a movie by myself. I know, some of you think that’s really weird. Only creepy people go to movies by themselves, but I disagree. Think about it—you’re in a dark room, focused on a screen, and talking is discouraged. So who cares if you’re alone. I decided to see The Martian—which my wife and kids weren’t interested in seeing anyway.
I bought my ticket online for one of those theaters with assigned seats that serves dinner. But when I got to the theater I discovered that my seat wasn’t just my seat. It was more like a love seat—a small sofa made for two, and in the other half was another middle-aged man. I sat down as far to my side as possible. There was nothing in between us. No space. No armrest. Nothing. Just a few inches of vinyl and a whole lot of awkwardness.
As we ordered our food, I started to wonder how to defuse the discomfort? Do I introduce myself? Do I make small talk? Then I started to think, What kind of creepy guy goes to a movie alone? I’m from out of town, but what’s this guy’s excuse?
I was so uncomfortable even after the movie started I couldn’t stop thinking about this guy next to me on the love seat. Yeah, so Matt Damon got impaled by an antenna. So what? This guy just ordered another Chardonnay. Not good! Then two things happened. First, my food came. Eating calmed my nerves a bit. And, second, I discovered the button. My chair had a button that made my half of the love seat recline and the foot rest rise up.
With food in my stomach and my feet in the air, I was much more comfortable. So comfortable, in fact, I stopped thinking about the guy next to me altogether. For the next 90 minutes, it was just me and Matt Damon lost in space together. There’s nothing creepy about that.
Here’s my point. Discomfort demands our attention. The discomfort of sharing a love seat with a stranger completely occupied my mind. But once I was comfortable—a full stomach and my feet in the air—I stopped thinking about him. He ceased to exist. Comfort made me numb to his presence.
We Americans are always inventing new ways to be comfortable. We’ve invented reclining theater seats and lay-z-boy chairs with refrigerators built into them so we don’t have get off our rears to get a soda from the kitchen. We’ve invented adjustable mattresses with personalized “comfort settings” because a 12 inch mattress with a pillow top isn’t quite comfortable enough.
What we forget is that comfort, when taken to an extreme, can be a very dangerous thing. Most of us think that the goal of comfort is to feel good. In truth, the goal of comfort is to feel nothing at all. Charles Dickens articulated the danger this way: “Minds, like bodies, will often fall into a pimpled, ill-conditioned state from mere excess of comfort.” The same can be said for souls.
Throughout Luke 16, Jesus talks about the dangers of money, and in the final parable about the rich man and Lazarus he shows how the comforts of wealth can make us numb—blind to the suffering of God’s children around us and deaf to God’s word spoken to us. If left unchecked, the comfort of wealth can take hold of our hearts and turn us into warped souls unfit for the kingdom of God.