So, in the social justice internet circles and books I read, “comfortable” is usually a dirty word. “Comfortable” is a sign you’ve sold out, you’ve bought into the American Dream, you’re valuing your own comfort over the justice that is required for the broader community. “Comfort” is right there next to “Convenient” and these are behind all the air conditioning, global warming, pre-packaged food, slave-labour priced clothes and CEO wages that lead to inequality. Comfort is bad*.
But this week I’ve been thinking about comfort. And how necessary it is.
My two year old has been battling a horrible stomach virus (throwing up, a million nappies a day, etc) for the past 15 days. As we go into week three, I’ve been subjected to watching him try to cope with the pain as well as the shattering of his worldview that mom and dad can fix anything. (Yelling, “No mom! No more!” when I bring the throw up bucket doesn’t actually stop you from throwing up, my boy). And I’ve found myself praying that he will have comfort.
Of course, I’m also praying the virus gives up and moves out of his digestive system once and for all. And I tend to be the sort that believes God can do miracles if he wants. But most of the time, its our bodies that have to fight off the germs, and that takes time.
When I pray for things, I usually pray that God will fix them. Otherwise, what’s the point? Hearing people pray that God will “comfort” people in their suffering always felt like a cop-out. He can’t fix it, so he’s just going to comfort you in it. The second best. A bit fluffy. What does that even mean, “comfort them” in their suffering?
But then I went into labor, and I had a doula.
I’ve tried explaining what a doula is to several friends who are pregnant, and usually their response goes something like: “So she can’t give you any pain medicine? She can’t even check how far along you are? She actually can’t do ANYTHING medical? Why would you pay a stranger to sit with you in labor when your husband is right there? Sounds a bit fluffy. She doesn’t actually DO anything.”
All true. Except the last. She does things. Just not medical things. She provides what are called, “comfort measures”. She can’t give you medicine to numb the pain, to make it go away. But having a doula for my second birth, I can honestly say I wouldn’t have gone through it and not needed an epidural if she wasn’t there. (I tend to avoid pain at ALL costs. Trust me on this one).
Going into labor this time, I don’t think the physical pain of the contractions was objectively any less than last time (when I did have an epidural), but I do think everything the doula did made me more comfortable and allowed me to bear the pain. It was painful, but not unbearable. Knowing there was someone in the room who had been through more than 10 years worth of women in labor gave me confidence. Her quiet suggestions based on all the other women she’d helped, “Here, why don’t you sit like this? Why don’t you stand like this? If I press here does that help?” helped me manage the pain. Her calm demeanor when the going got rough, “This is okay. You’re doing really well compared to most women. This is normal. Try breathing like this,” helped me through.
When it got to break-down point like it does every time right before transition, she helped me groan and breathe in a way that calmed me, rather than leading to panic. She told me I was safe, and she was there, and it was going to be okay, and I really COULD keep going even though I didn’t think I could. And somehow I could. I did. And I had a beautiful boy, and afterwards she called the nurses and took them to task for how cold it was in the room, made me a cup of tea and brought me a biscuit, and made sure I had warm socks.
Comfort and pain are not opposites. Comfort is not numbing ourselves to pain. Comfort is not avoiding suffering. Comfort is the thing we need in a world that is broken and hurting and suffering. If God’s not making everything new right this minute, then what we need in the meantime is some comfort.
I used to read Jesus’ words in John about the Spirit as a bit wishy-washy. A bit fluffy. So Jesus is leaving and he’s giving us his spirit as a comforter? Seems a bit second rate. He’s not gong to fix things at the minute, he’s just going to comfort us.
But when I think about going through the pain of labor, I realize comfort is exactly what I wanted. I didn’t actually need the pain to stop. I needed someone next to me, telling me how to breathe, massaging my back, and bringing me warm socks. What my son needs, yes of course is for the virus to end, but he also needs someone to sit and hold him when he throws up. It’s what he asks for —“Mommy hold me, don’t go!” He needs someone to make sure his blankie is right there for a snuggle.
Maybe comfort is not a passive, wishy-washy feeling, but a person.
Someone with the wisdom and experience to actively do things to help us get through it. Maybe we need the knowledge that we’re not alone, but there’s someone right there holding us. Maybe we need to know there’s someone speaking up on our behalf to get those in authority to bring us the extra blanket. Maybe we need someone coming alongside when we start to panic, helping us to breathe, to groan from the gut rather than the chest, just like the doula does.
Maybe that’s what it means when Paul means when he says the Spirit groans along with us, as the whole created world groans as in labor, waiting for God to make everything new. Maybe that’s what Jesus means when he says he’s not leaving us as orphans but giving us the comforter.
Maybe God gave us exactly what we need by giving himself to us as the Spirit.
We’re not alone. The Spirit is really here, giving us comfort. Dare I say, making us more comfortable?
*The only time comfort is okay is when you say it in Danish, and call it hygge, and then that’s fine. Because- Denmark. Duh. If you don’t know what I mean by this, you obviously never read the internet. Or you read the wrong internet.