One of my favourite characters in the Bible is Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples. Peter often did and said things before he’d properly thought about what might happen as a result. One of these times was just after Jesus had fed the 5,000 people. Jesus had sent the people away and had told the disciples to head over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee while he went off to pray. The Bible tells us that their boat was a long way from land and being pounded by the waves. The disciples then see a figure walking across the water and assume that it was a ghost. It was, of course, Jesus and he tells them that it’s him and not to be afraid. This is where Peter speaks, I assume without thinking too much. He says: “If it is you, tell me to come out to you on the water!”. When Jesus says “Come!”, I imagine Peter giving one almighty gulp, knowing that he’d have to do it or risk embarrassment in front of his friends. Peter does, of course, do it and, although he starts to sink when his attention is taken away from Jesus, I reckon he still felt pretty chuffed that he took the risk of getting out of the boat. Peter literally stepped out of his comfort zone!
I don’t know about you, but I much prefer staying in my comfort zone. It’s where life is easier – you know what you’re doing, so you’re not likely to make a huge embarrassment of yourself or get judged if things go wrong. What if God has other plans though? What if he wants you to do something that is difficult, something that you might struggle with, something that others might judge you for? Do you do it or do you make a million excuses why you can’t do it? God has often taken me out of my comfort zone in recent years. I suspect he tried for many years before that, but I made every excuse I could to stay nice and comfortable. Sometimes it’s felt like I’ve said “I’m never doing….” and God has taken it as a challenge and I’ve ended up doing it!
Back in March 2017, I became the Additional Needs Coordinator at Teddington Baptist Church. This was a role which regularly took me outside of my comfort zone and yet I loved doing it! It led me to doing a fair amount of public speaking on the subject of additional needs – to my own church as well as to people in the Thames Valley Baptist group of churches and at a London Baptist Association service. It also led to me leading a discussion group at the Boost conference in Crawley in 2018. Although I don’t have that role any more as we’re now at a different church, I was still given the opportunity to speak at a Through The Roof’s Roofbreaker event at St George’s Christian Centre in Ashstead in February 2020. Each of these speaking opportunities took me a long way outside of my comfort zone, but the response from those listening was extremely positive.
Another way I’ve left my comfort zone is through writing. English was one of my least favourite subjects at school (the other being French) and I was never a confident writer. I often added #NotAWriter on any post on social media when I mentioned that I had to do any writing and I really didn’t believe that I was any good at writing. As I said earlier, God often has different plans! Whilst I was the Additional Needs Coordinator, I wrote an inclusion policy and a sensory profile for the church. They’ve been shared with about 50 other churches and organisations to date, which I find incredible. I’ve also started this blog after guest writing for a couple of blogs. I really needed a lot of encouragement from friends to get started and then had huge fear before hitting ‘publish’. Although I still find it hard to think of myself as a writer, people seem to be reading and enjoying my posts.
We all seem to have times when Zoom (other video call services are available) has had to be used over this last year. I find this also takes me outside of my comfort zone and I end up with Zoom anxiety. I’m thankful that our weekly church service is live streamed via YouTube as it means I can ‘go’ to church. I’ve not been to many church meetings on Zoom since the first lockdown due to the anxiety that it causes. I have been working to overcome this by attending a weekly quiz, Fish for Answers, on Zoom with my family. Although it still causes anxiety, it is easier as there’s not the pressure on me to speak like there would be in a meeting.
So how do I manage to leave my comfort zone? Well, it’s not easy due to anxiety and Imposter Syndrome, but here’s a few things that help me and maybe they’ll help you too.
As as Christian, I find praying about what I’ve been asked to do essential. I pray for whether it’s something I should be doing and if so, I ask God for help to do it. I also send out messages to some amazing friends asking if they will pray for me. Usually their replies arrive within a few minutes assuring me of their prayers and also giving any help and advice that they think will be useful. If it involves me speaking somewhere, I know that they’ll pray during the time that I’m speaking and I often feel a sense of calm whilst I’m speaking. I really couldn’t do it without their support!
Over the years, I’ve found that God uses songs to speak to me. Often, after I’ve prayed, a song will enter my head with just the words I need to hear. Here is just one example – when I spoke to the Thames Valley District group of churches, the song that I was reminded of after praying was ‘No Longer Slaves’ which has the line “I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God”. I really needed reminding of that! Although I still shook like a leaf, the words came out clearly and God used me to encourage others to think about how to make sure disabled people were included in the life of their church. So, maybe try listening to some music and see if God’s trying to tell you what you need to hear through them.
This may sound like common sense, but when you leave your comfort zone you can forget how to breathe. You may barely breathe or, if you’re like me, may breathe so fast you can hardly catch your breath. I find that spending a few minutes concentrating on some deep breathing helps to regulate your breathing and calm you down. I now have a Fitbit and one of the modes on it is a ‘Relax’ mode, which helps me concentrate on my breathing. If you don’t have one of these you can try using the ‘Lazy 8’ breathing technique where you trace round a figure of 8 lying on its side, concentrating on your breathing as you do so.
Whenever I’ve had to speak I’ve found it much easier if I’ve practised beforehand. It can be done in the comfort of your own home, either on your own or with family members as your ‘audience’. It helps you get familiar with the words that you have to say and there will (hopefully!) be less chance of you tripping over your words when you come to speak in front of your real audience.
Family and Friends
I’ve already said how I get people to pray for me, but I also enlist their help when writing anything. Once I think it’s ready to publish on the blog or ready to be spoken to an audience, I get my family (and sometimes a friend) to have a read through for me. This helps because they spot any errors for me and let me know whether it makes sense, which in turn saves me from embarassment! They’ve also been known to remind me of something that needs to be included! This all helps me feel more confident before I take that final step out of my comfort zone.
Take small steps
If you start by taking small steps outside of your comfort zone, you’re more likely to succeed. If I had started to write a book instead of a blog, it would never have got written as I’d have seen it like trying to climb Mount Everest and would have given up. By writing a blog, there’s only a few words that need to be written and also no deadline by when it needs to be finished. So, although it’s still outside of my comfort zone, it’s do-able. It’s the same with speaking in public. If I had started off with having to preach a sermon, I’d have run in the opposite direction and I doubt if I’d have ever spoken publicly. With each small step more things are beginning to end up in my comfort zone!
Be prepared to say “No”
If you really feel that you’ll get too stressed by doing something that you’ve been asked to do, then you are allowed to say “No”. Having said that, it’s something that I find really hard to do as I don’t want to let anyone down. I’ve found it helpful to leave answering for a day or two and then I reply by email as somehow that’s easier. If someone has asked me to my face, then I ask for some time to think about it before I reply (usually by email!). I’m getting better at saying “No” to things that I think will be too much outside of my comfort zone, but it can still be a struggle. However I’ve learnt that it’s important to my mental health to not always say “Yes”.
I’m living proof that it is possible to do things you thought you’d never do, so long as you do it when you’re ready. Oh, and include God in the plans too – it really helps! I’m off to get out of my comfort zone again by attending some training via Zoom, so I’ll leave the final word to our vicar, Rev Allen Bower who said this in his sermon on 17th January 2021: “When we step into a place of risk, that’s when God uses us”
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