Friday, 19 January 2007
Comfort Zones: Meant to be Broken
I've taken the title above from an article in the current GN addressed to young adults. The writer, Debbie Whitlark, reflects on a month-long solo backpacking trip through Europe, and her musings are worth repeating.
"In both physical and spiritual matters, people often meet every challenge - and thus every opportunity - with a well practiced list of excuses for why they will avoid the issue or why they will only expect a mediocre performance from themselves. But fears are conquered only through action, and they are only intensified by avoidance."
"We should remember that every challenge in life is a priceless opportunity to grow. We should not ask God to take away the problem while reciting a long list of explanations as to why we won't be able to overcome the challenge at hand. Instead we can confidently trust that God will see us through the trial, not always lift it from us."
"But growth cannot occur within familiar, comfortable territory. We must choose to keep discovering and expanding what we are capable of, rather than always staying within a comfort zone that would insulate us not only from nominal failure, but also from real success."
Debbie is talking in the context of physical challenges and embracing opportunities. I'd like to suggest that there's also a real application here to the way we think, the questions we ask, and the security blanket we cling to in the area of belief. The Churches of God constitute a "comfort zone" for many of us, and no wonder considering the trauma of the past several years. Moreso as we've seen institutions we trusted go belly-up, and leaders we admired betray their ideals, the tendency has been to cluster together for protection and reassurance in even smaller communities. We talk among ourselves and reinforce each other by steering away from the trauma that has pulled families apart and destroyed symbols that we valued. Some of us are literally living out our faith in fear.
"For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice..." (2 Tim. 1:9 NRSV)
Years ago I was invited to hear Desmond Ford speak while has was visiting Auckland. Ford, an Australian theologian who had risen to prominence in Seventh-day Adventism, had recently parted ways with his church. I was one of the very few non SDAs in the hall that day, and to be honest I remember very little of what was said except for one piece of counsel from the good doctor which made a vivid impression.
"You don't have to read my books," Ford explained, "but you do have to read! People who read grow, those who don't won't. Don't settle down and get too comfortable. Don't be afraid to ask questions. And never be afraid to keep reading and thinking."
Of course, I'm paraphrasing, but it's how I remember it, and I walked back to my car that day with a feeling of liberation. So many of us are downright fearful about finding out about things that might upset our applecart of beliefs. We avoid certain books because they might not say what we want them to, we avoid taking a class because our pet theories might be threatened, we attack the beliefs of others because we can't stand the thought that they might actually have some legitimacy and value.
As Debbie says, comfort zones are meant to be broken. But you don't need to go backpacking in the Swiss Alps to make the breakthrough. It's the unique glory of our humanity to ask tough questions and face down the fear, to learn and to grow. If our faith means something more than Linus' security blanket, why shouldn't we wade out into deeper waters, push the boundaries and embrace some of those questions that fear shuns?