Tonight I was re-reading Anne Lamott’s book Help Thanks Wow. These words jumped out at me….
If we stay where we are, where we’re stuck, where we’re comfortable and safe, we die there. We become like mushrooms, living in the dark, with poop up to our chins. If you want to know only what you already know, you’re dying. You’re saying: Leave me alone; I don’t mind this little rathole. It’s warm and dry. Really, it’s fine.
When nothing new can get in, that’s death. When oxygen can’t find a way in, you die. But new is scary, and new can be disappointing, and confusing – we had this all figured out, and now we don’t.
New is life.
This is truth. At least it is truth for me in my life. I have always valued learning. I enjoy being in a classroom, a study group, an online forum, a continuing education event – you name it – whether as a student or a teacher – I love learning environments. Part of what drives me is a hunger for something new. Lamott’s words are powerful for me because I feel like they express clearly my feelings about faith, life, and learning and discernment.
If you want to know only what you already know, you’re dying. Comfort and safety feel really good. In fact we have in many ways been taught from a young age to get an education so that we might get a good job, gain security, and retire comfortable. But what of the risk-taking and safety-averse Jesus that we follow? The very message of Jesus is saturated with calling people to discern how they might leave the comfort of today for uncertainty of tomorrow. Jesus arrives to the people in the most incarnational and new ways possible – as an new-born. Jesus arrives in the most uncomfortable ways possible – in a stable. God’s call to Joseph and Mary most certainly must have been disappointing, scary, and confusing. In his life and witness Jesus again and again challenges people to leave what they know to take on something new. Heavens in the only account of his childhood in scripture, we have Jesus leaving the security of his family to teach in the synagogue. Peter, along with James and John sons of Zebedee, are told to drop their nets. Matthew leaves his tax collecting. Jesus asks those who have been rigidly following the law to examine what they were doing and embrace love above all else. You get the idea – our Christian story is about launching out from what we know to explore the depths of what is unknown or unfamiliar to us.
“Kevin, are you advocating that we stop teaching our children that safety, comfort, and security are goals to strive for?” Of course not. I am more suggesting that we encourage our children, adults and everyone else to embrace the notion that learning is a lifelong goal that should not be connected to jobs, positions, or security. No matter our job, our bank account or our situation, we should be encouraged to discern when we have become too comfortable – so comfortable that become like mushrooms with poop up to our chins. We need to have the courage to seek opportunities that may be scary, and may be confusing. New is life. No matter how much we come to know we can be assured that we do not have it all figured out. Sometimes we have to put our nets in new waters.
Twenty years ago, I made the very difficult choice to leave Newfoundland and everything that I knew to move to Ontario to study theology. It was frightening. The pain of leaving a large family and a comfortable level of family and community support was not easy, never mind how foreign London Ontario seemed to be to me at the time. I still remember how scared I was walking into Huron College that first day. Today, I cannot imagine what my life would be like of I chose comfort over reaching for something new. While I still have great pain in my heart when homesick for family, I could not imagine not being engaged in parish ministry here in the Diocese of Huron. Two years ago last week, I uprooted my little family’s life after discerning that I was comfortable and I was safe – so much so I really could not envision ever taking on something new. Hard as it was to leave behind all that made me feel warm and safe, it was critically important to remember that Jesus called me to serve, not simply to be comfortable. As much as a grieved leaving my previous parish behind, I am have come to know that ‘new is life.’ But these challenges to take risks and embrace what is new come to us daily – not just in the big moments. My daily prayer includes a plea to God to give me strength to take the risk of doing something new – and my prayers of gratitude daily include thanksgiving for learning from new experiences.
If we are discerning big changes in life – we can do so knowing that ‘new is life’ and that we never travel from one place to the next alone. If we are simply seeking new ways to let oxygen into our lives of faith, or looking for new ways to serve – we can do so knowing that while doing something new may be scary and unfamiliar – life and hope will result from willingness to step outside of our comfort zone.
Let us seek to be open to discerning what nets we need to put down and what new adventure we can embrace.