If we really want to grow our faith, we must step beyond our comfort zones.
Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. – 1 Peter 2:11, the Message version.
In most of our lives, we push quickly away from discomfort. I sure do. Think honestly about this for a minute: don’t you like being rested, warm, clean, and full, with extra leg room? Except when I am on a camping trip, I never lie down for a drafty, cold sleep. I have the luxury to chose my shoes for style instead of just comfort; you see, I’m not planning on walking very far most days. I only sweat at Orange Theory and I have trouble keeping track of all my over-the-counter medicines. How about you? Do you ask “What would I like to eat today?” instead of, “Will I eat today?”
In worldwide terms, we have been greatly blessed with far more than we need. Because we can, we design each day as much as possible into a temporal and spatial leather couch of sorts, with soft hollows to fit us perfectly.
“Complacency and ease are deadly foes of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people.” – A. W. Tozer
Honestly, I am not trying to raise some level of guilt in you, but to sharpen our awareness of the hidden spiritual cost of ease. As we unconsciously pattern our lives to seek comfort, we deepen our roots into this vanishing, corrupt world. As we grow in dependence on pillow-top mattresses and milligram pills, we can comfortably lie back, forgetting we are on a journey, a pilgrimage toward something much, much better. When we let ease, luxury, security, or physical wellness become the road map of our lives, we move away from God’s best for us. It is a truism: growth never happens without some discomfort. Hebrews 13 reminds Christians to avoid getting too comfortable, for this world is not our home: “We are looking for the City to come.”
Celtic Christians of Ireland and Scotland understood this. They chose to call themselves peregrini pro Christo, or “exiles for Christ”.
The Latin term peregrinatio was a legal one in Roman law, and referred to the state of living or sojourning away from one’s homeland. We use the term “an expatriate” (ex, meaning “out of” with patria, Latin for “country) in much the same way. Those choosing to live in a different place. The Church Fathers, in particular Saint Augustine of Hippo, recognized that this world has a powerful downward draw, and so Christians should live a life of peregrinatio in the material world while seeking Jesus’ Kingdom.
Among Celtic Christians this took hold. While they embraced nature and relished common life (see Drinking a Beer with Jesus), in Celtic circles a tradition developed of regularly undertaking a voluntary peregrinatio pro Christo, in which individuals permanently left their homes and put themselves entirely in God’s hands. It could be as short as a day trip into the woods without a pouch of food or money. It could be a pilgrimage to a nearby monastery for a silent retreat. Most peregrini or exiles of this type were seeking personal spiritual growth, but many also chose missionary endeavors. This often meant journeying on what we would call a “short-term mission trip”. For this peregrinatio, a Celtic pilgrim would seek a place outside of their “land” and out of their comfort zone. They would travel to a place where life was harder or poorer, a distant village or a distant land, and seek to serve the people there. In the discomfort of travel and service, they found a deeper relationship with Jesus.
Throughout history, God did miraculous things when his followers sought him beyond their comfort levels. They speak of overwhelming wisdom, peace, and healing gained. Sometimes the exile bonded so deeply with those they met, they chose to remain in a distant place. Saint Patrick became the evangelist of Ireland during what he called his peregrinatio there, while Saint Samson left his home to ultimately become bishop in Brittany. The Celtic Fathers Columba and Columbanus similarly founded highly important religious centers after leaving their homes on a peregrinatio.
T. S. Elliot reminds us in “Journey of the Magi” that, for the Wise men, the spiritual impact did not end in the moments of kneeling with gifts before the child Jesus. Elliot writes that the Magi returned home changed, and a bit unsettled at their old lives. They cannot find the ease they had before. Meeting Jesus has pushed them nearer to heaven, but the cost has been they are now more askew of earth. In our terms, they now live as peregrini pro Christo.
Finding Jesus should make us a bit askew of earth, too.
Being followers of Jesus should make us a bit uncomfortable with the easy stuff of our lives. If we really want to grow our faith, we must step beyond our comfort zones.
Sometimes, we need to do something stretching, even something uncomfortable. Like skipping a meal. Picking up garbage alongside a highway. Bringing cookies to a retirement home. Spending a night alone in the woods. Many Christians have often experienced how a silent retreat, a day of fasting, a time of serving at a shelter, or a mission trip could shake a bit of the “comfort dirt” from our roots and point our eyes toward heaven again. Each day brings a new chance to be peregrini pro Christo.