How will you risk authenticity today?

Thomas Merton's BoxcarComfort is a “spare tire.” That’s what my dad calls the cushion of fat that some middle-aged men carry around their middles.

Most people tend to associate comfort with security. A comfortable job is one that provides enough income to pay the mortgage, life insurance, and other bills. A comfortable relationship is one that gives you confidence that the other person won’t pick up and leave on a whim. A comfortable car is one with plenty of legroom and extra drink holders.

You can see why we associate comfort with the good life. Comfort comes to mean “surplus,” and surplus means safety. Surplus creates the illusion of control:

“If we have six months’ worth of living expenses in savings, then we’ll be okay.”

“If our rainy day fund can cover our health insurance deductibles and several major car repairs, then we’ll stay afloat.”

Conversations about comfort and safety always drill down to their bedrock—money—yet will you ever hear a dying man wish that he’d made more of it? No. If he speaks of money at all, he’ll say that he would have cared less about it, or given more away, or used it to do specific things for his loved ones. You probably won’t hear him say: “I wish I’d taken fewer risks. I wish I’d been more afraid of failure. I wish I’d looked before I leaped.”

You probably won’t hear his wife and soon-to-be widow say, “I wish he’d given me less of his attention, presence, and love and spent more hours making money to buy me name brand clothing.”

I want to give less of my precious attention and less of my shrinking time to considerations that will mean nothing to me when I’m an old man. Surplus makes prayer difficult, and I want to look back on a life of prayer. Comfort makes courage difficult, and I want to look back on a life of risk taking.

I’m not talking about the risk of challenging the status quo or convention. I’m talking about risking authenticity. Polite society is rarely kind to originals, unless of course they are also rich. Poor oddballs don’t draw smiles from the majority.

Maybe “oddballs” is what I meant when I first thought of gu.ebers. Saints are oddball lovers of light. Tyrants are conformist lovers of darkness.

I’m not going to try to become lean and daring overnight because I’m likely to deplete all my emotional and spiritual resources without any kind of structure or rhythm to replenish them. But if I go for a metaphorical walk or run, do some push-ups, ride my bike when I could have driven my truck, then I’m changing my lifestyle slowly but surely.

Every time I make a small or grand plunge into discomfort and risk authenticity, I burn off a little of that spiritual baggage. As that cushion of fat shrinks, I realize that it represents fear. Fear is a depressant. It robs me of energy. The less I have, the more initiative I take. I begin to become myself—at my best—and all I’ll leave behind is a rusty boxcar.

Today I will thank my lovely wife for being so patient with me.

How will you risk authenticity today?

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