I have this friend, Ruston, who is one of the smartest and wisest people I know. Seriously, like I wish he could be president. I was wondering the other day why we don’t have the most awesome people in America as choices for president instead of who we have. Do people around the world watch our candidates on TV and think, this is the crème de la crème of American leadership? I hope not. But really, shouldn’t they be? I wonder why it’s not like that. Probably has a lot to do with money and maybe something else, like in Lord of the Rings, where Aragorn son of Arathorn is supposed to be king but he doesn’t want to be because he’s humble enough to fear he’d be corrupted by power. Which is exactly what would make him a great king, of course. Oh well. If I am ever asked to nominate someone for president it will be Ruston. Or perhaps my brother. Then Heathcliff would be first lady! That would be so cool. Except then we’d all have to leave the Triple F and move to Washington, D.C. Which, come to think of it, would not be cool at all.
Anyway, I spent the night in Ruston’s home town last week and got up early just so I could have coffee and conversation with him before he went to work. For those of you who know me, you know this is a big deal. I hardly get up early for anyone. But Ruston is that type of person you just want to be around, so you take him whenever you can get him, even if it’s 7:00 AM. He tells great stories, and he’s funny, and he’s just so darn good. He has this inner barometer that seems always set to do the right thing. And when I talk to him it feels restorative, like the best pieces of myself that have been scattered on the wind come back together. It’s also undergirding, fortifying. Like after I listen to him awhile I remember that even I can know what the right thing is and do it too. Even if it’s hard.
So we were talking about our shared trait of restlessness, how we are always looking to have the best life possible and do amazing things, and how hard it is to figure out what is best and amazing all of the time and also pay bills and do laundry and keep ourselves in balance. And he told me he was watching a talk show and there was someone saying how people need to take life by the horns, try something new, make something happen. That old mantra: get out of your comfort zone. And it occurred to him, what is so bad about staying in your comfort zone? A comfort zone actually sounds kind of nice. Is it possible we’ve been getting it wrong all along?
I thought that was pure genius.
Now, I guess there are people who may need to get out of their comfort zones. For instance, if you say that you were comfortable in your corporate life and God called you out of comfort and onto the mission field—or any of the million variations of that–I’ll believe you and respect your story. I understand “get out of your comfort zone” resonates with some. But not with me. Not ever with me. For me that mentality has always been an invitation to restlessness, a germ that sprouts into the disease of not-enough-ness. The polar opposite of the directive in Psalm 46:10 that I need tattooed on my forehead: Be still.
For people like Ruston and me it is extremely difficult to find a comfort zone. We’re never not out of it. In fact, it feels like we spend our whole lives searching for the darn thing. Maybe it’s personality, birth order, life circumstance, neuroses, I don’t know what. Probably a combination of things. I think it’s also the culture in which we were raised—both American culture and Evangelical culture. There’s this pervasive sense that a comfort zone is a bad thing. A place for the lazy. A place where one settles for less than the best. A place for stagnation. A place that, unless you’re a loser, you need to get out of, and quick.
So people like me, who are afraid of all of those things, tend to avoid staying in a comfort zone like the plague. But I believe Ruston is right. I believe we’ve been getting it wrong.
For me lately a comfort zone looks like this: a dirt road that leads to a house that is rarely clean but cozy. No exotic trips in the foreseeable future, but a lake named after my daughter at the bottom of our hill that has loads of fish, and a little boat, and a nice bank where we can spread a quilt for a picnic. It looks like family. Every Sunday we eat at my mom and dad’s after church: my 6, Brother’s 5, and Granny and Papa. We see each other most days, never mind our own business, and keep up a running group text called “the fam.”
Comfort also looks like health. I’m 44 and not a supermodel or a movie star. But I have a strong body I’ve fought hard to get and keep and I’m learning not to hate what I see in the mirror, which is progress, let me tell you. And it’s also progress that I can die happy if I never win the Pulitzer Prize. I’m comfortable where I am as a writer—although I want to keep growing—and I love my day job, which I never thought would happen. I didn’t want to be a teacher, because I wanted to do something else, though I could never quite figure out what something else was. I tried to make Medicine my comfort zone, then Law, then lucked out and somehow landed in the University. I guess teaching is in my DNA. Turns out I’m entirely comfortable in the classroom. Not just comfortable but alive and fully myself. And I’ve learned that letting yourself be who you are is extremely comforting.
I’m also comfortable in my church. Someone asked me the other day how I am a Baptist, since I don’t seem very Baptisty, and I don’t guess I know except that my church hasn’t kicked me out. So far they let me keep playing the piano, and teaching Sunday School, and questioning things, and doubting, and disagreeing. I think we all mostly just focus on what we have in common, which is Jesus, and that’s enough. I’m obsessed with Jesus. Jesus is totally my comfort zone.
So, after that conversation I did what I always do, which is to drink more coffee and keep thinking about what Ruston said. I found this on Instagram and sent it to him. (I really hope you can read it!)
Then we had this little exchange:
And that is my unsolicited advice for you today as well. If you are lucky enough to have found your comfort zone, you are lucky enough. Curl up in your warm blankie and stay there.For the love of God, do not step one centimeter outside of your comfort zone, Click To Tweet no matter who says you should. Your comfort zone is a most holy place.
Ps. In an ironic twist, this image came up on my Instagram the same day as the epiphany. If any of you have the skills to draw a line through or X over “Nothing” and write in big bold letters, “Everything,” you will win a prize. I have yet to think of what the prize will be, but it will be good. I promise.