“The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” — Pope Benedict XVI
You change into your comfortable jammies and settle yourself in the recliner. A text message lights up your phone: Your teenager’s plans for a ride home have changed. Reluctantly you grab your coat, quickly jump into the taxi you once called your car, and ride off with a yawn into the night.
A coworker calls you out on an oversight at work, and a wave of humiliation floods your heart.
You come home at midday to find your spouse there. He’s just been let go at his job.
Crosses come in all sorts and sizes — physical, mental, emotional, and financial. It’s challenging to see them as a way to greatness.
Situations you never expect thrust into life unbearable discomforts such as cancer, prodigal children, or the loss of a loved one. Smaller crosses include annoying coworkers, the negative remark of an acquaintance, or the myriad of physical ailments we encounter daily. So often we find ourselves placed squarely outside of our comfort zones.
OK, so we’re not made for comfort, but then maybe we don’t want to be great! St. Teresa of Ávila spoke to God in this way: “If this is the way you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few!”
Why the Lord sees fit for us to experience the discomforts in life is a mystery. But he does promise us glory in the end if we remain faithful to his will. “But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13).
So how can we pray when his will seems to place us outside of our comfort zones? These five ways may help us stay in the confidence of the salvation awaiting us.
Ask. God knows we’re human. He made us this way! So the first and most natural reaction we experience when in pain is to cry out for help. And God is pleased, for he tells us to ask (see Matthew 7:7). If the blind man in Jesus’ time asked for pity, it’s a lesson for us to do the same. Christ will turn his gaze toward us and help us (see Mark 10:46-52). This form of prayer is not so much for God as it is for us. God never changes, especially in his great love for us. Though sin and suffering mark this broken stage of salvation history, we have a Savior who came into our mess to heal and restore us to wholeness.
So ask! Cry out to God with your whole heart and ask for his light and power to come to you. God also sees the heart, so he knows when our intentions are misguided and we are tempted to treat him like a slot machine. He knows when we’re putting in our prayer time but expecting the jackpot in return. In the Gospels, people were made whole by their faith in a loving God who knew what was best for them, trusting in his plan for them wholeheartedly. If we approach and ask with faith, not clinging to any specific outcome, God will make his presence known, and comfort will come in unexpected ways.
Listen. After we ask in prayer, a beautiful and powerful next step is to listen to God’s response. Imagine your heart as a blank sheet of paper on which he can write his own words of love to you. The big lie during time outside the comfort zone is that we have been abandoned by God. We somehow begin to think we may have done something wrong and must suffer because of it. Fear, shame, and guilt can easily creep in when we have suffered a wound of the heart.
Jesus told us that he is truth (see John 14:6), and when we go to him in prayer, we can be assured it is truth we will hear. Sometimes we receive creative solutions; sometimes we gain insight on how to persevere; sometimes we are given light in regard to our understanding of ourselves — but always we are assured that we are loved and never abandoned. If we come ready to hear his voice, he will never disappoint (see Romans 5:5). If we spend some time with God in silence, knowing that nothing we could say and nothing we could think would be more important than his word or his thoughts, peace will flood our hearts, even amidst the uncomfortable struggle.
Offer. The Catholic Church teaches the great reality of redemptive suffering. Understanding that our discomforts and trials can be used for God’s redemptive purposes can be a great consolation. St. John Paul II said:
In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ (Salvifici Doloris, 19).
What does it mean to be a “sharer in redemption”? It means that God needs our suffering to help save the world. What a privilege it can be to offer the discomforts, struggles, and painful circumstances of our lives to Christ, literally joining our suffering to his. We, as the Church, are his body, and his body still suffers today.
But thankfully, in God’s magnanimous plan, all suffering is the way to wholeness, healing, resurrection, and glory. We see this modeled in Jesus, and we are invited to participate in it. How generous God is to allow us to be a part in the miracles of redemption that he has planned. Not seeing immediate results may be an additional act of faith on our part, but on this side of heaven, we must trust. We can offer our discomforts for the redemption of our own souls and the souls of those we love — and thus find joy in the fact that our suffering has meaning.
Accept. Normal reactions to uncomfortable situations include a desire to make sure everyone knows it. Complaining seems to be a way to feel better, but it only leads to more discomfort — because we were made to find joy in thinking of others, not focusing inwardly on ourselves. Instead, the Lord requires our acceptance. This is not to discount our emotional needs, for we all have a basic need to be in loving communion with people who care about our difficulties. But, through grace, we can all work to avoid complaining and search for the good.
When we turn to God and accept what he permits to happen in our lives, trying to see all as gift, our lives become filled with grace! In our God-given freedom, we always have a choice — to let our crosses make us bitter or to embrace them, accepting what we cannot change at this time. It is very freeing when we work through the stages of grief that accompany loss and pain and move from anger and denial to acceptance and peace. It is freeing because we know God is good. We trust that he will work out his plan of salvation only with our complete cooperation. As St. Paul says, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Praise. A final way to pray when faced with being outside our comfort zone is to praise God. This may seem absolutely ludicrous, but the saints encourage us to do so. For instance, St. Faustina wrote: “When a soul praises My goodness, Satan trembles before it and flees to the very bottom of hell” (Diary of St. Faustina, 378).
Suffering is a direct result of sin, and the evil one is constantly tempting us to reject God as our loving Father. He wants us to place our trust in his lies and all the comforts he pretends to supply. His immediate gratifications may indeed keep us comfortable for a time, but after chasing these idols we find that we will never be satisfied with earthly things, and we will always be restless until we find God. “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in thee,” St Augustine said.
While it can take all the strength we can muster, the Holy Spirit actually dares us to praise him. Like the disciples on the turbulent sea, he asks us why we are terrified and have so little faith (see Matthew 8:26). The Lord will use our difficulties to stretch us to the point of crying out. In our desperation we acknowledge him as Lord and Savior, and this deepens our faith and our trust in him. When we begin to praise him, even before our prayers for being back in the comfort zone are answered, we know we have been given a supernatural gift.
Ask. Listen. Offer. Accept. Praise. With these five ways we can offer ourselves in prayer while we await our deliverance into the comfort zone of his peace.