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Monday, April 28, 2014

Calling vs. Comfort

I want to take a rare opportunity to whine.

I live in the allergy capital of the world.  And here’s the data to prove it:  grass pollens of more than 20 grains per meter are considered “high”.  Counts of 200 grains per meter are considered “very high”.   Guess what:  here in the southern end of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, grass pollen counts above 600 are not unusual.  And counts have been recorded over 1500.

That is a lot of pollen.    

The numbers are different for tree pollens, weed pollens, and other sources of sinus misery… but at some point every spring, Eugene/Springfield typically exceeds the “very high” level for all of these various noxious, nostril-inflaming substances. 

This is where I live…and I suffer from horrible allergies. 

Many years ago when I underwent allergy testing, my allergist said that I had the worst reaction to spring pollens he ever had seen in more than 50 years of medical practice.  I’d always wanted to be first in something, but this is not really the category where I prefer to be leading the pack.

I’ve been treated by allergists, ENT’s, and a variety of other medical professionals over the years.  I’ve found some relief here and there, but nothing ever has fully solved the problem.  So I sniffle and sneeze and snort my way through life.  I told my wife that I should have become a major stockholder in the Kimberly-Clarke corporation (makers of Kleenex) since I consume so much of their product.  I’m convinced that I must be a large part of their profit base.

Here’s something else I want to whine about:  because of my allergy problems, I am much more susceptible to colds.  And guess what:  the Native Americans called this place “the valley of sickness.”   They were right.  People do get sick a lot here from the bad air.  Colds tend to linger…and linger…and linger.   

So I finish off my winter colds just in time for the spring allergy season.  I am constantly battling congestion, a runny nose, a sore throat.  On most days, I feel mildly “sick”, rather than “well”.  All of this is a real distraction as I try to preach. 

Yet I moved to this area, by choice, a little over three years ago.  Why?  Because this is where God has called me to serve. 

I can see so many reasons for me to be here.  I love our church, the climate, the ministry opportunities.  There seems to be a healthy meshing of my interests and skills with the needs of the church and the needs of our community. 

And yet…physically…it’s been a struggle.

So I’ve spent a lot of time musing about the relationship between my calling and my comfort (or discomfort).  I wrestle with the fact that my personal discomfort is a direct result of life in the place where God has asked me to live. 

I find that it’s easy to be self-centered about these things; to feel that because I am “doing God’s work” and “honoring my call” that the Lord should not ask me to endure this level of discomfort, inconvenience, and annoyance.

And then, of course, I think of all that Jesus endured. 

And the original 12 disciples. 

And the Apostle Paul.  

as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger…
2 Corinthians 6:4-5

I have…been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.  Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move.  I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 
2 Corinthians 11:23-27

This certainly puts my problems into perspective.  After all, what’s the cost of wiping my nose compared to these kinds of experiences? 

It’s clear that my personal comfort…our personal comfort…is not that high on God’s list.  Not when there are so much more important issues at stake.  Like getting the world back on track with His program.

And yet…on a larger level…I wonder why God has arranged it this way.  There obviously is a great amount of pain in this world, and doing good does not allow us to avoid it.  At times doing good comes at a high price.  Doing godly work sometimes comes at a great price.  And Jesus – the one I claim to follow – paid the greatest price of all. 

All of this makes me realize, yet again, the consequences of living in a fallen world.  This is the cost of sin.  For me.  For everyone. 

And rather than whine about some of my personal hardships, I know the Lord wants me to live with a sense of gratitude.  Gratitude for knowing Him.  Gratitude for what Jesus has done, and is continuing to do in me and through me.  And – just as importantly – gratitude for living here.  

Here in the pollen-laden Willamette Valley. 

This is the place where I have the opportunity…where I have the incredible privilege…to live out my calling.  Doing so by the grace of a loving God who knows what is best for me. 

Even if, much of the time, life is physically uncomfortable. 

When I look at life from this perspective, I find there is great comfort in knowing I am doing what the Lord wants. Where He wants.  And this comfort – this spiritual, relational comfort from the Heavenly Father – far outweighs any personal discomfort I may experience.

-       Bruce