People who do not know what a comfort zone is must suffer a terrible anxiety disorder or unmanaged pain problem; and they must have suffered this so long that they do not remember what it was like to feel comfortable. Thankfully, few of us fit into those shoes. In fact, I have never met such a person. I have one. I know when I am in it and I know when I am not. I like my sweet place. The same is probably true for you. Though our comfort zones are comforting, they can certainly become our enemy.
Probably none of us has sufficient control of our lives such that we can choose to live within our comfort zone exclusively. Circumstances of life can and do, at least occasionally, move us out of that place. Sometimes people (like parents, teachers, employers, friends and spouses) purposefully push or pull us out of our sweet spot.
Given the reasonable degree of control most of us have over our lives, it is clear that we do not exercise that control in the same direction or with the same passion. Some people are obviously comfortable with stuff that I would never choose to do. Evel Knievel comes to mind.
Knievel entertained millions of people during his 15 years of public performances. On a motorcycle, he performed over 75 ramp-to-ramp jumps over all kinds of objects including cars, buses and shark tanks. One failed attempt to jump the Snake River in a steam-powered rocket resulted in minor injuries but was very nearly fatal. If the rocket had landed in the river instead of near the river edge, Knievel would have surely drowned due to a mechanical failure of his harness mechanism.
Though Knievel made many impressive successful jumps, he did not always land well. One crash left him in a coma for 29 days. The 433 broken bones Knievel suffered during his daredevil career earned him the Guinness Book of World Records award for “most broken bones in a lifetime”. That record will probably stand for a long time. Who wants to break that record by breaking 434 bones? Even Knievel wasn’t going for that record; it was merely a hazard of the trade.
Knievel is just one example of people whose comfortable zone experience is way different from mine. Think of race car drivers, astronauts, fighter pilots, seal team members, and others who volitionally engage in high-risk activities. These are people who are committed to endeavors that lie outside their natural comfort zone. Just as we all can see these people with high-risk lifestyles, all around us are people who fit the antithesis of this – people who are quite committed to an extremely low-risk lifestyle. Where the former take great chances and literally risk their lives, the later take no chances and purposely risk nothing. We don’t notice those committed to “no risk” like we do those committed to “high risk”; frankly there is nothing impressive about them.
Surely we are all born with comfort zones that vary in size one from the other. Perhaps the CZ of some people is naturally larger than yours and mine. They were born more daring, more outgoing than we. Indeed, some people are gifted with a greater capacity to “comfortably” engage risks. I don’t believe, however, that we are doomed to the comfort zone formed in the womb or formed in our early years of life. I believe that for all of us our comfort zone can grow as we choose to certain risks in life.
Consider these relevant thoughts from M. Scott Peck: “The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers” (The Road Less Traveled ). Indeed, the better ways, the truer answers, and many worthwhile accomplishments in life often require us to get out of our comfortable ruts, outside our comfort zone.
Getting that college degree that may open doors of opportunity will not be comfortable, at least if you really do the work of learning. Practicing your musical instrument may not be comfortable, but it is the only pathway to proficiency. Maybe new social settings make you anxious, but facing that anxiety healthily (not lathered up with alcohol or other drugs) may reward you with some incredibly great friends.
That comfort zone is a nice relaxing place. It is great to be comfortable. A life devoted to comfort, however, can become a wasted life. If you are going to learn new things, build new relationships, find ways to serve God and your fellow man, you will have to give up personal comfort pretty often. You’ll have to read things that are not funny or fluffy. You’ll have to have talks with people you’d rather avoid. You’ll have to endure the uncomfortable feeling of being bad at something before you can be good at that thing. You may have to admit the need for and engage the help of a tutor, a mentor, or a counselor in order to succeed at an important life task; that can be very uncomfortable for some of us.
I became a Christian in my mid-20’s. Part of the change that came to my life involves the very thing I am writing about in this piece. I chose to follow One who did not choose to stay in His “Comfort Zone.” The Cross is a major symbol of Christendom, in part, because it symbolizes this fact of His life. The whole Gospel account emphasizes this. Jesus left all the comforts of heaven to come into this sin-sick world to rescue us. And, as He lived in our world, He had few of the creature comforts we all crave. He lived and worked among people who often misunderstood Him, used Him, and were not dependable to Him. The passion of His love moved Him out of all comfort zones in the pursuit of His mission. Then He turned to folks like you and me and said, “Come, follow me.” It has taken me out of my comfort zone countless times. Not only did He lead me out of my comfort zone, He empowered me to step out – to face and overcome my fears.
Too many Christians, I fear, are willing to follow Jesus anywhere, willing to do anything for the Master – as long as it is not something that makes them uncomfortable. When this is the case, one would do well to answer the question: Is Jesus my Lord or is it my comfort I serve?
When we let Jesus be Lord indeed, He will lead us to things outside the comfort zone of today. He wants to do that in every arena of your life. I hope you will let Him lead you there. He is your Friend; and your comfort zone is your enemy, if it keeps you from going with Him, growing with Him.
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