The Comfort of the Toxic Known

As many of you know, this next week my family will begin our move into a new apartment. Although the decision to move to a new apartment was forced upon us by a landlord who decided not to renew our lease (without giving us any reason for that decision) we have come to welcome this coming change and to celebrate the improvement to our family's life that will come with the new apartment. It is demonstrably better in every way imaginable, but why did it take us being forced to leave for us to improve our situation?

My wife has had the most profound and wonderful insight into this process. She wrote recently:

It took my world/comfort being rocked before I was forced to let go! I know you will all say some encouraging things like we will be better off. Oh there is no dispute that we will be, but the lesson I have taken away from this is that I hold on to toxic things in my life simply to avoid discomfort. I don’t want to do that anymore...

We can get so caught up in the comfort of the known that we are afraid to embark upon the unknown, even when what we know is toxic or damaging to us. For my family, it was living in an apartment that has a black mold problem and other significant maintenance issues that the landlord continually refuses to acknowledge or to address in any way, and yet we did not look for a new place because moving one's stuff is annoying, and tiring, and just plain awful. For all too many it shows up in the endurance of an abusive relationship because of the fear that there may not be another person out there to provide the companionship that is desired. For others, it is suffering through countless workdays with an employer that takes advantage of workers, or lies, cheats, and steals to get ahead, all because the job market is daunting and the bills won't vanish simply because you couldn't stand another day under the abuse. More esoterically, we see it in people that double down on various ideological or political positions because they are what we know and what we have subsumed as part of our identity, even if that ideology has been corrupted for and exposed to be a method of furthering oppression, hatred, greed, or vengeance. We see it in every walk of life, every community, and every type of encounter we face. None of us are immune to or free from experiences wherein we choose to endure toxic things simply because they are known and because stepping away from them is uncomfortable and sometimes terrifying.

This is why I love what my wife shared so much. Her recognition of that willingness to hold onto toxic things simply to avoid discomfort rings true with me, and I think for many, if not all, of us. This is essentially what Jesus is saying when He tells His disciples to "cast the net on the other side of the boat." He is telling them they are beating their heads against the wall without making any headway when what they need to do is change it up a little and try something different. It is what God says to Abraham when He tells him to leave the relative comfort of his family and country and to embark into the land that God has promised, even without knowing where he will finally find himself. According to the epistle of Hebrews, "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see" (Heb. 11:1). In other words, faith is truly put into practice when we leave the comfort of what we know and embark upon the unknown. 

It takes a lot of courage to look at your own situation and recognize that you are in the midst of something toxic or unhealthy, and sometimes it takes having the rug pulled out from under you so you can take that step away from the comfort of the known into the uncertainty of the unknown. But the result, my friends, is joy unspeakable, for when we can learn to trust in the Lord with all our hearts, and lean not on our own understanding, we will find a peace that passes all understanding, and a joy that will not diminish with the night but that will be new every morning.

May God's guidance and protection be with us all!