The God of Comfort … I never knew how much this idol vied for my attention; but as I have grown a little older, I have become much more susceptible to his beguiling. I believe it is a universal struggle; but some of us struggle more than others, and I am not gifted at being low maintenance, I’m afraid. I realize all of us have things we think we need for our own comfort. While we have studied Buddhism and Hinduism on our trip, I have realized the goal of nirvana and moksha is basically to have no more suffering by being released from the cycle of rebirth, or basically to finally be completely comfortable if you think about it. The path for getting rid of suffering and unhappiness is to learn how to stop craving by understanding and following the four noble truths or one of the four paths. This sounds appealing in many ways.
Unfortunately, because I am an upper middle class American, I am ridiculously accustomed to comfort and craving. On an average day at home, I manage the household and homeschool my children with readily accessible tap water that is potable and can be hot anytime, unless two of us have a taken a luxuriously long hot shower in a row; and sometimes, this frustrates me! I have a washer and a dryer that cleans and dries clothes, that often may have been worn only one day, whenever I need to. They come out soft and usually ready to wear. I have a dishwasher that I load and run at least once a day, that sterilizes my dishes also. My stove turns on with a turn of a knob, and it doesn’t make my kitchen feel like a furnace. My feet stay clean all day usually. When I need to travel any distance, I jump in an air-conditioned or heated car, as needed, and drive to another temperature controlled environment. My work is primarily in my brain, which is constantly multi-tasking as teacher and mother or making decisions as a nurse practitioner. I have to purposely plan time to exercise and watch what I eat, because I am always at risk of gaining too much weight. I have most any thing I need available to me to teach my children, computers, video/tv, supplies, etc. My life feels hard many days, but it is exceedingly comfortable.
This life is totally foreign to the dear Rajasthan family we lived with the last 3 days. I am not glorifying their lifestyle, just noticing the differences and how much more tolerant they are of what I would call discomfort. They are happy and content and relatively healthy. They have many things about their life that are refreshing to our family and others about their culture that are disturbing.
They live mostly outdoors in a rain starved landscape. The women awaken around six, stoke the fire for cooking, and hand make enough millet bread or roti for approximately 9-10 guest and a family of 9 children and 6 adults. They also prepare there rest of the meal, everything from scratch, because packaged food is nonexistent near here. Then, all those dishes have to be cleaned with cold water in an outdoor area. The women spend most of their day in flip flops or barefoot. They negotiate all their day in a floor length skirt, bangles, and veil, which the daughter-in-laws have to keep covering their faces to show respect to the husband, brother-in-laws, and his parents.The children help with chores seamlessly and then entertain themselves the rest of the time – other than the newborn, she is still nursing. The children watch out for each other; hover parenting seems ludicrous here. Fathers, mothers, grandparents, and siblings all play a role in rearing the younger children. They are together all throughout the day, although the children over 5 do attend school 5-6 days each week.
Then we come to the laundry, which includes any sheets the guests have used and the large families’ needed wash. This family is fortunate to have a type of washing machine where, first, you fill it with a bucket of cold water that you bring from a nearby tap, Then, when the cycle is completed, you move the clothes to a spinner for a spell to get the majority of the water out. Finally, you hang them on the line. Later you have to bring them in, and some must be pressed with an iron warmed over the fire. Three women manage these tasks as well as the children, while also finding time to weave large rugs by hand in the family business. The two husbands also help with the weaving and manage the guests entertainment and travel. One brother also helps run a store in town. Together they have developed a village cooperative to work toward eliminating the middle man in selling their local crafts, and they often bring people to see the work of many and sell for them.
They do spend time just sitting with the children, enjoying the brilliant stars, and spotting wildlife. The grandfather greets friends and talks with them. The grandmother may take a nap with the small children and helps with the baby. The husbands and wives flirt and playfully pick at each other. In the evening, the men in the village get together to play cabade in the streets, while the women get the children to bed. They do seem satisfied with life; but we are also limited in our ability to communicate with everyone, especially the daughters-in-law.
In many ways it was a beautiful picture, traditional family life supported and encouraged by the community of an extended family and one’s village. But taking a bath from a bucket, especially when the unreliable electricity is out, leaving no hot water, is uncomfortable. Sitting on the ground “Indian style” for your meals can be uncomfortable. Cooking most of your day by a fire, squatting on the floor, is uncomfortable. Sleeping without a mattress, as many of the families we met did, is uncomfortable. Learning to use a squat toilet and a new way of hygiene that does not utilize toilet paper is uncomfortable. Laundry with so many steps is harder. Lack of predictability of internet access is frustrating. Riding in the back of a jeep with dust stinging your eyes and itching your moisture starved skin is irritating. Sweat dripping down your back and legs most of the day as you go about your work is uncomfortable. All these experiences are novel, and alluringly authentic for a few days, but I’m not sure I could pick this lifestyle by choice. I am afraid I would complain; I am afraid I would whine; I am afraid I would daydream of easier. I don’t really like this about myself when it comes to my own desire for comfort, but it is hard to overcome.
Surprisingly Christ teaches us to embrace suffering. Jesus says in Mark 34-37, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?”And James says in 1:2-4: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. And 2 Timothy 2: 3 “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” And finally, Romans 5:3-5 3 “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
Because I am a Christian, I want to have less focus on my comfort and more on the experience of others. I understand if I don’t, sometimes I will do the easy thing instead of the right thing. I believe awareness is a first big step. Sometimes, in our own little worlds at home, I think we often become oblivious to the lives of our brothers and sisters throughout the world. We become unaware of our reliance on comforts and unwilling to sacrifice some of them for the good of others. For instance, we were able to calculate our carbon footprint the other day in Australia and discovered we were worse than the average Australian family; and I can’t imagine how much worse we are than this Indian village family. Whether we like it or not, this affects the world in a negative way. This is not how we love our neighbors as ourselves. But change will be very difficult and uncomfortable. Adding a clothes line to my chores does not sound appealing. Using less water, less air-conditioning and heat, and fewer electric devices is not fun. Not buying new clothes, new home decorations, or just more stuff in the greatest volume possible and the cheapest way possible and in a way that does not take advantage of workers around the world is a lot of trouble. Recycling more consistently and learning to composte will take more time. Not to mention, the nagging reality that eating way less meat or even becoming a vegetarian, I have learned, for certain can impact those “least of these” for good; but, as Ella says, I really like meat. But, I always hoped I would become the kind of person that could do hard things when my faith and my love for my neighbors around the world required it.
In 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 Paul tells us “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” and He also told Paul in the same book in 12:9-10 – “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
So, I will lean on Him and pray that He will complete a great work in me. I will continue to travel and walk in the shoes of my brother as much as I can. I will continue to learn and remind myself of the truth of what it is to have to walk a different path. I will keep praying that the Holy Spirit will break my heart with the things that break His, even though … it’s uncomfortable.