Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Living Outside My Comfort Zone

         "The comfort zone is a behavioral state within which a person operates in an anxiety-           neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviours to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk."  (Wikipedia)
Wow! With that definition, does anyone actually live inside a comfort zone? Can you live life with no sense of risk?
I have often thought about my life and wondered if I was living too far inside my comfort zone. Do I take enough risk? Am I being too safe? I love reading quotes, and since Pinterest came along, I get to feed that habit any time I like. I've read so many quotes about making sure you step outside your comfort zone, get out there and live life, etc.
Well, as I reflect over the last couple years of my life, I think I can safely say I am almost constantly living outside of my personal comfort zone. How do I know? For starters, SO MANY things that I do cause me at least some level of anxiety.
Fear is an emotion that I have struggled with for as long as I can remember. As I've grown in my relationship with The Lord, He has helped me tremendously with my fears, but I still fight fear often. Growing up, I think fear sometimes stopped me from doing things that I could have really enjoyed, and meeting people that could have been great friends. As a teenager and through college, I would occasionally have a panic attack. Not enough to be diagnosed or anything. At the time I didn't even think of them as panic attacks (as a Psychology major I guess this was a self diagnosis). They typically came on late at night, sparked by a thought or a noise. About 9 years ago, after I graduated and I moved to a new city, I can praise God and say that he removed panic attacks from my life and I have not had one since. But I do still recognize fear as a struggle in my life.
While I can see many times in my life where I pushed beyond the anxiety and did whatever it was that was outside my comfort zone, it's not until about 2 years ago that I can really see a change that happened inside of me that cause me to choose to no longer let fear stop me from doing things that would challenge me and grow me in so many ways (emotionally, spiritually, professionally...).
In early 2012 I was in my 6th year of a job in Data Entry. I really enjoyed the 6 years I spend in Data Entry; learning the office world after college, growing in my understand of computers, people, processes, etc. But I was getting antsy to learn something new and I could tell that God was preparing me for something different. That "different" thing was definitely not what I imagined of even planned for. On a Thursday afternoon I was asked to a meeting in HR where I was offered a position in a brand new department (for the same organization) and I had one day to make a decision if I would accept the offer for this job that I knew nothing about. Umm, I don't typically make decisions that quickly. I need to plan it out, see every angle, pray, think, analyze...I can't just...decide. But I did, and the next day I accepted this position and my work life has never been the same. This...was a LEAP outside of my comfort zone, and 2 years later it pretty much still is every single day. On any given day I can be given a task that I have no idea how to complete. It could be something I've never done before or it could be something that terrifies me (like being in a video shoot or hosting a webinar or having one week to plan a training for 100 people (and executing said training) for a really high profile important event). But you know what...I LOVE IT. I love the feeling I get when I complete a task that I didn't know I could do and it helps me to realize that I'm no longer allowing my comfort zone to hold me back. Life is SO MUCH more exciting outside of your comfort zone.
There are other areas in my life that I've begun to live outside the comfort zone as well and I truly believe that God is calling me to continue to grow in what it means to push beyond those comfortable walls. This past year I have been doing this with my local church situation. In September I left a church I had been attending for about 2.5 years. I did not leave for any negative reason. One day my heart began to stir and I had this desire to do something more/different/bigger than me. So I figured I would visit several churches and figure out what God was calling me to do. Funny thing, God already knew where I was heading and it didn't take Him long to get me there. Before I even visited this church called "Upside Down"...yes that's really what its called...I went to an event they were doing in the center of the city. On this day they were reaching the community in two different ways, first they were serving food to the homeless population and second, their praise team was worshipping the Lord right in the middle of the city while church members where meeting and talking with the surrounding people. So against my "comfort zone" nature which on the inside was saying "you don't know anybody maybe you should just stand back and watch. You don't have anything to say to anybody and you aren't even a part of this church!" I had this moment of bravery and jumped in. I introduced myself to a few of the church members and asked how I could help and I spent the next hour passing out water bottles and talking to people. And in my heart, I knew I had found something special. Special people with a passion for helping others and it was like an awakening in my spirit. This is what God wants me to do. This is the challenge he has for me. I say challenge because nothing about talking to strangers or meeting new people is easy for me. But I WANT to get better at it. I believe God commands Christians to be in relationship with others, loving people regardless of age/culture/life situation etc. We are here to love one another and to share God's love with other people. This is what I need to be doing...but I HAVE to be living outside of my comfort zone to do this.
It took me just a couple weeks to make the transition to Upside Down Church and begin serving in small ways there. I still have shy moments even just during our normal Sunday services where I have to push  to step outside myself and interact with others (making friends/meeting new people). But I'm in an environment that lends itself to getting better at this (the people here are more loving and better at expressing that love than almost anywhere else I've ever been). I'm still growing in understanding the best way I can reach out within my community and God is teaching me this in baby steps as I choose to do little things that scare me (serving the homeless, going door to door in a community to pass out batteries for their smoke detector, etc.). But you know what...I LOVE IT. Because I'm growing into a better person, a better Christian, a better friend. I am thankful that when we choose to live outside our comfort zone, God will challenge us to get braver and become more the person He wants us to be.
As I look towards the future, more and more I want to move farther away from my comfort zone. I want to do and experience new things and go new places. I want to live a life of courage. I want God to be able to send me anywhere and I have the strength to say yes Lord, I will do it.
Living outside my comfort zone is a choice...are you choosing to live outside of yours?

Sara Bareilles: Brave
The Real Me


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