Saturday, March 2, 2013

Leaving My Comfort Zone

Lent is not an easy journey to take. If we've been fasting, whether from food or from Face Book, then we've experienced a self-denial in some form. So practicing Lent gives us pause, and takes us out of our comfort zone.

Joshua Davis

Wikipedia defines 'comfort zone' as, "a behavioural 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."

Well, according to that definition, who would want to leave an 'anxiety-neutral' state? Who would want to choose 'risk' over 'no risk'? Who would want to step out of a culture that encourages self-absorption, concern with the frivolous, and avoidance of the needs of others?

In a very interesting article  Pau Vidal, a new priest working with the Jesuit Refugee Service in Kenya, talks about the three people Pope Benedict mentioned in his Ash Wednesday remarks. All three people were folks who stepped out of their comfort zones: Pavel Florensky, a brilliant Russian scientist who became an Orthodox priest and was eventually executed by the Russian State, Etty Hillesum, a Dutch Jew who was killed in Auschwitz, and Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. Vidal states, "these three provide a radical testimony of what it means to leave our comfort zones and let ourselves be transformed by the Spirit."

And, as Methodists, who better a role model of leaving our comfort zone than John Wesley himself. Wesley, an Anglican priest, had a good friend from college, George Whitfield. Whitfield was an evangelist who preached to the poor in England and America. After some persuasion, Wesley decided to join Whitfield preaching to coal miners, in the open, in Bristol. 

Wesley recounts,"I could scarce reconcile myself to this strange way of preaching in the fields, of which he [Whitefield] set me an example on Sunday; having been all my life till very lately so tenacious of every point relating to decency and order, that I should have thought the saving of souls almost a sin if it had not been done in a church." (James M. Buckley, A History of Methodism in the United States, vol. 1 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1898), 88-89.)

It has to be noted that, "coal mining was the most undesirable job available to anybody in 18th century England. They and their families lived in abject poverty. They were considered dirty and dishonest and violent. They were not welcomed in respectable Anglican churches. 

George Whitfield preached to the coal miners in an open field in Bristol. Good respectable Anglicans considered this an embarrassingly tacky thing to do" (

But from this point on Wesley's spiritual life takes a sharp turn. Once he stepped out of his comfort zone (preaching to the clean, decorous congregants in beautiful churches) and took to open fields to bring God to the unchurched, outcast, dirty coal-miners, things changed for him. “Up to this point (in his spiritual life) the story is full of anxiety, insecurity, futility. Hereafter, the instances of spiritual disturbances drop off sharply and rarely recur, even in the full records of a very candid man” (Albert Outler, Editor, “John Wesley” (Oxford University Press), p. 17.) Preaching as he did to the miners led to the demise of his career as an Anglican priest, but it led to a spiritual awakening for him and he began to experience what salvation, forgiveness, grace and peace truly mean.

So, again, why would we want to leave our comfort zone? It seems that when we do, the Holy Spirit can work in us, transform us, and great things happen in the Kingdom of God. Wesley found himself preaching to groups as large as 3,000, made up of people who would never have been welcomed in a church. He brought God, education and hope to many who had been overlooked and discounted as unworthy by the ruling classes, and even the church.

Certainly there are risks to this. Wesley was considered a traitor to his class, Anglican priests reviled and resisted him, violent mobs broke up meetings and attacked the preachers.

Will fasting this Lent bring risks for us? Will turning to God and opening up ourselves to the Holy Spirit by leaving our comfort zone change us? 

What would leaving your comfort zone look like?

This post is linked to Spiritual Sundays.


  1. Hello, Sue. I'm visiting from Spiritual Sundays. Thank-you for sharing these examples. This is a topic of "comfort zone" that has been on my mind. We need to be willing to do things that stretch us--Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit as our helper.

    Have a blessed Sunday!

    1. Thanks for visiting, Carol! With the Holy Spirit stretching us we can do all things - I'm certainly praying for that willingness to be stretched and to leave my comfort zone!

  2. Sue,
    Thank you for linking up to Memoir Monday!
    Your post is so thought provoking and I'm honored that you joined in the reflection.
    I will have another post up tmrw ( actually tonight) for Memoir Monday on Lent, mainly b.c of how my blogger friends have caused me to cont to look inward and ponder more deeply...
    I hope you will cont to join in the blog hop, if you do have the time.
    I'm now following you through a reader so I don't miss any posts....I found you during a hop recently and I'm so happy you stopped by my blog again.
    Have a lovely day....

    1. Thanks, Chris! I'm looking forward to blog hopping with you on Memoir Mondays. Reading other women's blogs has been a joy and has such an impact on my faith walk. I'm happy to have found so many spiritual sisters who are also journeying with Jesus.

  3. Sue,
    It's so good to have you aboard Spiritual Sundays! Thanks for visiting my blog and for your encouraging comments.
    I appreciate your challenging thoughts on getting out of our comfort zones. The history on Wesley and his progression to working with the coal miners was very interesting. I want my heart to be ready and willing for whatever God may ask me to do.
    We seem to have a lot in common. I would like to hear more about your training to become a Spiritual Director. My husband and I are part of a Conflict Solutions team at our church. The ministry is fairly new so we haven't had much experience using the training yet, but I love how God transforms hearts towards forgiveness and how powerful the message of reconciliation is through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
    We also have experience with Divorce and step-parenting.

    Email me sometime, if you want. See my profile.

    Blessings and Happy Blogging!

  4. Thanks so much, Ruth! Good to meet you in the blogosphere.

    I looked up the Conflict training after reading that you were trained in it and would love to know how you experience using it at church as time goes on. I would imagine you could help a lot of people who are separating and considering divorce? What a blessing you guys will be!

    I'll email you,

  5. So much truth here to meditate on. I certainly need moved out of my comfort zone. I'd love to see what God could do with a willing heart.

  6. Thanks for visiting, Pamela. I think God can do wonderful things with a willing heart. We just need to trust and obey :-)