5.20.2008

Comfort Zones and Faith

I don't know if you've ever been a little down and maybe not even realized it. You're just kind of going through life, not really miserable, but not necessarily happy either. I found myself in that state a few weeks back.
I had gotten into the routine of going to my sister's house at the end of the day. I had gone through an episode of heartache and was also experiencing feelings of uncertainty. By going to my sister's house I could temporarily forget any discomfort as I numbed my feelings away with the comfort I found being with my sister and my nephew. My thoughts at the time were that I was seeking a greater level of peace to face any uncomfortable feelings.
On one particular day, I had spent the day at Women's conference. Shannon came to pick me up from my house because she wanted me to go to Wal-mart with her. After shopping, we did some of our usual routine...watch Hannah Montana with my nephew, eat some ice cream, talk about the day and life, etc. I finished off all of this by taking a nice, long nap in her recliner. When I woke up it was dark and time to go home. I was still a little dazed as she drove me home. But in my state of half wakefulness something occurred to me. I turned to Shannon and with a laugh said, "I don't think we're very good for each other." "What do you mean?", she asked. "Well, every time we hang out we just end up eating and watching tv and sleeping", I replied. Shannon laughed. "Yeah, I have been thinking that every time you come over I just wanna eat and watch tv."
In all my searching to find peace, I think I instead found myself in a comfort zone.
That night I went home and although my "epiphany" may seem simple, to me it was profound. I prayed thanking the Lord for helping me recognize this and I prayed asking that he could teach me more, like what was the antidote for comfort zones.
Neal A. Maxwell once said, "In your life and mine, the great moments of commendation and correction have come usually in one-liners" (In Him All Things Hold Together, 3/1991, p. 3). My "one-liner" came the next day in a talk given by Julie B. Beck at women's conference. She was citing several scriptures to show how the Lord needs righteous sons and daughters to do his work. Among the quoted scriptures was 2 Nephi 28:21-22. I had always thought that scripture was particularly insightful about the need to be vigilant that I'm not just going through the motions of church worship while my heart was elsewhere. At that time I felt that I had not been seeking to be worldly, I had just been seeking comfort for my healing heart. I began to realize that although I had thought my attitude was "be still and know that I am God", in reality it was more "all is well in Zion". Did I assume that the Lord would deliver me from any discomfort when I took no 'action', "save it was to ask" (DC 9:7)?
Did I believe that I could, "sit upon my throne(s) and because of the exceeding goodness of God (I) could do nothing and he would deliver (me)" from any loneliness or discontentment (Alma
60:11)?
Julie Beck went on with her talk. She talked about how our fore bearers didn't sacrifice so much just so we could live more comfortable lives. Theirs were lives of faith and the same is expected of us. To counteract the "all is well in Zion" mentality, we would need more faith.
That following Sunday I sat in Relief Society listening to another lesson on the importance of visiting teaching. Once again I received another "one-liner". Luke 15:4 was cited. "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine and go into the wilderness after that which is lost, until he find it?" (note JST). The teacher must have been inspired when she pointed out the fact that the wilderness is not the most comfortable place to go. It brought to my mind the story of Adam and Eve as they were expelled from the garden to face the lone and dreary wilderness. Definitely out of their comfort zone. I thought of others- Lehi and Sariah and their family, Moses leading the children of Israel, Jonah sent to preach in Nineveh, Alma and the sons of Mosiah.
As the week went on other examples continued to teach me of the necessity of leaving behind my comfort zones to step with faith into the unknowns of the "wilderness".
I subscribe to a health newsletter that sends me emails. One day I found an email saying this- "People love routine. There's comfort in doing the same things and knowing exactly what to expect- no surprises, no fear, no thinking required...doing the same moves day in and day out isn't doing much to help (or motivate) you. A lot of times we stick with a program because of that comfort zone. Maybe it's all you know how to do, maybe you're afraid...your muscles are smart. When they do new things- they're a little shaky at first. But they learn quickly, mastering these new moves, so much in fact that they become MORE efficient at doing them. So they don't have to work as hard (or burn as many calories, or respond with positive gains) to keep up with the program...always be challenging your body in order to keep improving your fitness level." Was it possible that my spiritual growth could also plateau because I was stuck in my own routines?
Maybe others are also stuck in a routine and are not living out of faith. Although we may have already established many good habits and "righteous reflexes", as Neal A. Maxwell termed it, these routines were never intended to signify that we can rest in our progression. The gentiles declaring "A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible"(2 Nephi 29:3) obviously did embrace some truth but were unwilling to embrace more. Are we similarly unwilling to grown when we live off of mere reflexes lacking faith? If so, we are living a life of "vain repetition" and in such a state we are numbered among those "honorable men of the earth...who receive of his glory, but not of his fulness" (DC 76:75-76). If the Lord has instructed Zion to "strengthen thy stakes and enlarge thy borders forever", would he not be equally concerned about his children ever progressing?
Perhaps if we lived more out of faith there would be less talk of comfort food, "going granola", plateaus, complacency, frumpiness, security blankets, unfulfilled potential, unrepented sin, negative self talk, a lack of forgiveness, mediocrity, apathy, and bad habits. Maybe there would also be less seeking of the vain things of the world with all their addictions which lull us away temporarily into a carnal security.
It is not the comforts and luxuries of life which bring us happiness. It is overcoming the challenges of life. We do this through our faith. It is faith which enables us to push the boundaries of our current comfort zones. With faith, we recognize that we can't wait for our circumstances to change. It is us that must do the changing. "For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them" (Ether 12:12). Why can God do no miracle? Maybe because we damn ourselves with our unbelief, lack of work, and desire to stay in that which is comfortable. With faith, we recognize that the journey ahead will be like leaving the comforts of Eden to experience the stresses of the wilderness, but we recognize that there is joy and peace as we overcome the obstacles of mortality.
I once said that I want to marry someone who helps me be humble. I thought I knew what this would feel like- It would be a feeling like I felt so secure in this person's love that I could leave behind vain cares of the world and be content in that person's love for me. Although I still believe that that's true to an extent, my definition of the humility has undergone some revision. It's been said that for us to grow and change, we must feel discontent with our current circumstances and state. David O. McKay once said you could recognize someone is good for you if, "in her presence you feel that you would like to be everything that a [great man] should become, for she will inspire you to that ideal". Perhaps that's why the most successful marriages are those where both people are putting God first, for when he is first, we cannot be in a comfort zone. We strive to be a better version of ourselves for God and thus for each other.
As I've thought more on routines and security blankets and comfort zones, I've come to see that it can be very easy to get stuck in one of these ruts, even without knowing. We become "neither cold nor hot" but lukewarm. Maybe because our natural man craves the comfortable and this seems to be the most comfortable temperature. Sadly in our ease we become selfish and self-centered. At the beginning of my learning curve about these things, I wrote in my journal about security blankets "It keeps me from reaching out to others...there's no joy in comfort zones, just complacent comfort."
Since learning of these things, I've made it a personal goal to get out of my comfort zone and be an agent who is "anxiously engaged in a good cause" who does "many things of (my) own free will, and bring(s) to pass much righteousness"(DC 58:27). To do so I will have to do some things that are scary for me, or that I might not want to do but know I should do, or finally chase after some of those goals which never seem to be accomplished. This is one of those subtle ways that I'm personally trying to put off the natural man. As I've done this I've been so happy- simple as that. I have faith that as I work and pray for help, that the Lord will help me "enlarge the borders" of my comfort zones to continue progressing. Life isn't about comfort, it's about growth, serving, loving and being loved. As I work with faith and seek the Lord for help in this process, I experience all of these and I come to a greater realization that God's love is so great that he is in the details of my life.

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