Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Comfort or Courage: What's It Gonna Be?

Wow.  Wow.  Wow.  Have you ever been nonchalantly listening to someone speak, and all of a sudden, the voice you are hearing seems louder, and the words jump up and shake you, and you go, "A-HA!"  I had that experience recently, although it has taken several days for me to grasp the magnitude of the words I heard.

While I was carving my Boston Terrier jack-o'lantern last week, I wanted to entertain myself with a personal viewing of Hocus Pocus.  I'm not into scary Halloween movies, but that one suits me well. How can you not love those witches?  Unfortunately, I am not the Queen of the Remote, and I could not, for the life of me, make the movie play.

So I settled for searching our recordings, a skill I actually have, and found to my delight, one of Oprah's Master's Classes, featuring Brené Brown.  Have you heard of her?  She calls herself a researcher storyteller.  I love her direct approach to life, and her firm conviction in stating her truth. They were talking about courage.  I was only slightly listening; the pumpkin carving was taking most of my attention. And then I heard her say something that made me stop what I was doing.  I managed to stop the program, and rewind it so I could hear her again.

"You can have courage, or you can have comfort, but you can't have both."  WHAT?  I played it again.  "You can have courage, or you can have comfort, but you can't have both."  I tried to let that sink in, but I knew she would have many more tidbits to share, so I continued listening while carving. There were other memorable quotables, but the courage one stuck with me.

That quote haunted me for the next several days.  I considered my life and the way I have always lived it.  I CRAVE comfort.  I love comfy clothes: I devour comfort food: I like being warm when it's cold outside, and I like being cool when it's hot outside. Being uncomfortable is very undesirable for me.  I don't like to feel strong emotions because I suppose I don't really know how to manage them.  I move through my life at a steady, even pace, enjoying all of my little comforts, trying to please the people around me, and taking delight in small joys.

So if my life is full of comfort overload, what must it be lacking? Oh, dear.  Time to face the music.  I can say it now.  I couldn't before.  I lack courage.  To state it well, I should say, I have been living my life without courage.  Of course, I HAVE courage, I just so rarely tap into it, it's hard for me to own it. I can only think of one time I lived my life courageously.

Whenever I am faced with confrontation, my tummy gets tied in knots.  My head starts to pound. Guess what I'm learning? Courage isn't comfortable.  Big breath.  Let it all out.  There. Brené said that each morning she sets an intention for her day, and every day, her value is courage.  She tells herself that because her value is courage, there may be some uncomfortable moments during the day, but that is okay.

Do I believe that?  Deep down in the depths of my heart, I know this is true.  Let me tell you about the most courageous day of my life, which was also the most uncomfortable day of my life.  The moment was a turning point for me, and has allowed me move to the next level of learning.

Several years ago, I found myself in a very unhappy place in my life. My children were growing up, and the two oldest were busy making plans for lives outside of our nuclear family. I could see where my life was heading. We were entering the empty nest stage.  

Although our youngest was only ten, he was spending more and more time away from home, visiting friends and doing the outdoorsmen sports with his father. I was living alone in that big, old farmhouse. I felt lonely all the time. I refused to act sad, so I threw myself into fitness and teaching and spending time with my friend.  I acted happy, but part of me was very empty. I felt hollow, and lived my life going through the motions.

At my lowest point, I was shocked to hear my husband say, "I couldn't be happier.  My life is perfect. Nothing could make my life better than it already is." How could that be? How had I allowed myself to sink so low while he was so unaware of my pain, and was happy himself?

It all came down to courage. I had never had the courage to speak the truth of my heart. Complaining seemed self-centered to me.  Arguing was not "allowed."  I never wanted to be perceived as demanding, so I always deferred my plans to his. I never asked for what I needed, so I never got it. I take full responsibility for how I allowed our marriage to work, or remain in a dysfunctional state, as the case actually was. In not expressing my feelings, I was giving away my voice. 

The pain of remaining in that marriage became greater than my fear of the unknown.  Once I made my decision, I knew what I would have to do.  For the first time, I would have to have my voice heard, and I would have to be courageous, and tell the truth.  I was sad, and lonely, and I could no longer stay in that environment.  Sleeping was a luxury denied to me for many, many weeks. Sleeping pills allowed me to fall asleep quickly in a fit of exhaustion, only to wake up awhile later with my mind racing with worry. There were knots in my shoulders I'd been having treated for months.  My stomach hurt.  My body was revolting against the conflict within me.  

I carried these feelings in my heart for several days before I drummed up the courage to share them. Each time I felt conviction that I was doing the right thing, I knew peace and calm. Whenever I wavered, and thought I should try to wait it out awhile longer, I felt sick.  I knew enough about living by the spirit to know my body was telling me what was right for me; I could deny it no longer.

One day, I finally said what I had to say. I laid it all out, and told him that I was moving out.  Was it uncomfortable?  Terribly so. We yelled.  We cried.  We were both hurting.  I had nothing left to give. The next little while was full of uncomfortable moments. When conversations would turn to his telling me we could still make this work, I felt violently ill.  When disagreements would end with his telling me to contact an attorney to end this all as soon as we could, my body would totally relax, my breathing would return to normal, and I felt complete peace.  My body was not going to let me down.  I had to follow my heart.

The night I moved out, I was so scared.  How would I ever sleep in my strange little house, in an unfamiliar bed, with no one else there?  For the first time ever, I was on my own.  No roommates, no husband, no parents, no siblings...just me.  I crawled into bed, and listened to the quiet of my house. The moon was softly shining through the window.  My muscles relaxed.  My body went limp.  I fell into a very deep sleep.  I slept. ALL.  NIGHT. LONG.

The sun woke me up the next morning.  I was rested, and felt so good.  Miraculously, I had no knots in my shoulders.  I had needed no sleeping medication to get me through the night. My stomach ache was gone.  I had finally had the courage to speak my truth, and my reward was a body that felt whole, and a spirit that felt light.  

That, my friends, is my one shining example of living wholeheartedly, with a value of courage, and an intention of living my truth.  I wish I could tell you I have done it every day since, but that is NOT my truth.  I still struggle with discussing uncomfortable topics.  I still crave comfort over courage.  What I am observing in my life again is that instead of making my voice heard, I am throwing myself into the busy-ness of being consumed by the internet, and eating too much comfort food, and spending as much time as I can outside of the house.  

When I am confronted with gossip, rather than expressing any disapproval, I try to change the subject without anyone noticing. (No courage required.)   If we're in a group, and someone asks, "What should we do?", even if I have a good idea, I'll wait until others speak up, and go along with the crowd. (Allow me to hide my thoughts from others; how courageous.)  If my husband hands me the remote so I can find something I would enjoy watching on TV, I inevitably hand it back to him, not wanting to have to choose for both of us, afraid he won't like my choice.  He can only guess at what I'd like.  What a pain for him, so sometimes the TV just goes back to football.  If I am not going to voice an opinion, I really don't deserve to have any satisfaction with the outcome.

I'm seeing a shift in my thinking now.  It's not that I don't deserve satisfaction or that I am not worthy.  I am totally deserving, and totally worthy.  There is a little girl inside of me who just didn't believe this. I am learning.  In order to live my life wholeheartedly, I have to not only know my truth, but be courageous in speaking it.  Accepting the fact that courage is often uncomfortable will be life-changing for me.  It must be life-changing for me, if I am to live the life I truly deserve.

It is said that until we learn the lessons life is trying to teach us, we will be presented opportunities for learning over and over until we have mastered them. I want so much to rise to the challenge, and get it right from now on. It is going to seem awkward; it is going to challenge me; and yes, it's going to be uncomfortable. Ready or not, here I come.

Above, I have posted the video excerpt about courage and comfort, for your viewing pleasure.  It is just over a minute long. Enjoy.

***The poem by Mary Oliver, called THE JOURNEY, is one that felt autobiographical at that time of my life. 


  1. Bravo, for sharing this and for having gone through it and learned from it. I too have had that conversation. It sure was hard to begin, but once it had, the relief that flowed was amazing. And I'm happier! Whoo!!

    1. Lee, your response has moved me to tears. I have been so emotional this week. I want so desperately to learn from my experiences, and to stop running away from them. "Lean in to the discomfort." I finally did, and the relief is palpable. Who knew we would have to walk through the discomfort to find the peace we are seeking?

  2. I love Brene Brown's book, but I'd never heard her speak...thanks for the clip!
    I also am a comfort seeker, so I know how difficult it is for you to speak up. I've gotten much better through the years. It's good when you find peace...that is the greatest comfort of all. Love you, girl!

    1. Oh, Susan, you always say the nicest things. No wonder I like you so much! Love you back!

  3. Denise, this was an amazing share. Today, check courage off your list! This was incredibly inspiring for so many different reasons! Thank you for everything you are, the good, the bad, the beautiful, the scary. I admire it all. xx

    1. Thank you, Miss Lexi. Courage is so scary. It's so ironic the discomfort we have to experience to be truly comfortable in our own skin.

  4. Here's to leaning into courage—no matter how uncomfortable!

    1. I really hope to master some of these things I keep having show up in my life.

  5. Your post has challenged me.I will do something today that i have been putting off because it is uncomfortable.Thanks for sharing

    1. Dorcas, I hope that you will "lean into the discomfort" as you speak the truth of your heart. Nothing has been more liberating. You can have courage while you face your fears. I know this to be true.


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