You are lined up on the start line, crowded between a hundred other runners. The gun goes off. The cheers are deafening as a mass of runners pushes into the woods.
As the sound of the crowd fades away, you hear only your own breathing. The adrenaline from the start line fades, your legs start to ache beneath you and you begin to settle into a comfortable pace.
This chronic occurence in cross-country races reminds me of the words of Pope Benedict XVI: “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness!”
Benedict’s call for greatness, despite the appeal of worldly comfort, shows me that the temptation for comfort is as much a threat to the spiritual life as it is to a cross-country race.
But before delving into comfort and the spiritual life, let’s go back to our race. Away from the pressure of spectators, you are faced with the choice to push yourself or to give into the pain in your body. And here is where we are faced with Benedict’s call, which is as if to say: a slower pace offers you comfort, but a cross-country race is not made for comfort. It is made for greatness!
If it’s impossible to be a comfortable cross-country runner, is it possible to be a comfortable Christian?
Just as much of a cross-country race occurs in the woods, there isn’t always a crowd to cheer us on in our spiritual lives. In fact, I think that we will find the most edifying and maturing times in our spiritual lives are the times when we quietly choose to serve the Lord.
They are the times when you choose to pray even though you don’t feel like it, when you choose humility over defending yourself, when you sacrifice efficiency in order to act with love. They are the times when you choose grace over the comfort of being understood and of being recognized for your actions. Just as you push yourself in a cross-country race to achieve greatness, in the same way you do not settle for a mediocre relationship with the Lord.
And just as a cross-country race has a finish line, as Christians we have a telos. As runners are rewarded for their effort, we will be able to share in the glory of Christ’s victory over death. But comfort is not rewarded in the cross-country awards ceremony, nor is it rewarded in the judgement of our lives. It’s greatness.