I like running. Check that…I like the idea of being a runner. I’ve been running for about 5 years, but I don’t run consistently enough to increase my speed or mileage much. Because of that it never seems to get easier. Granted I can go much farther and much faster than I could when I first started (starting as a couch potato made that pretty simple), but the last 3 years have been a plateau.
I have only myself to blame though. It’s easy to put off a run or have an excuse for skipping a run when you are in the “comfort zone” of everyday life. Kids have to be gotten ready for school in the morning, business travel and lunchtime conference calls fill up the day, dinner and after school activities round out the evening, and then I’m just plain tired by the time the kids are in bed. I have good intentions. I even pack running shoes with me when I travel, but most times it is easier to find excuses than to lace up and run.
This week I brought my running gear with me on spring break in Virginia but still almost passed up a couple opportunities to run, even though I had legitimate “excuses.” Personally I think that for my first run at Virginia Beach I had a great reason not to go that day. There had been 60 mph winds and a powerful thunderstorm that rolled up the beach early that morning. Dark clouds still lingered threateningly, but with some encouragement from my wife I laced up my Asics and headed out into the rain and wind with my windbreaker zipped all the way up, running completely out of my comfort zone.
Running north up the Virginia Beach Boardwalk from the condo started out great. This wasn’t so bad. The wind was at my back, there was just a light rain, and not a soul (meaning not another crazy person out in this type of weather) was in sight. I was gliding along to the rhythmic crash of the waves just enjoying some time alone to think, pray, and run. It started to pour down harder and I started contemplating whether it might be time to reverse course on this out-and-back route before things got really bad and I was even further from the condo. By the time I turned around I was a good distance down the boardwalk, the rain was pouring and now I was running directly into a steady 30 mph headwind.
Coming back took me 25% longer than going out, and the closer I got the harder the wind and rain came down. When I finally reached the condo I was glad to get inside, but also excited about completing this “adventure” run. My runs at home had become routine–up and down the same hilly streets of my subdivision–and I had never ventured out in a storm. It’s good to mix it up, and even though the distance of that stormy run wasn’t that far and the boardwalk was dead flat, my legs felt sore the next day…I believe from being pushed out of my comfort zone and struggling to maintain my balance and form against the heavy wind.
When we left Virginia Beach and went up to Charlottesville for the second half of our spring break week I decided to get in another adventure run. This one didn’t involve the weather though. I have run in town around the Historic Downtown Mall and the University of Virginia, but this time I thought I’d try a more natural setting, so I drove to Darden Towe Park and ran along the Rivanna River utilizing the Rivanna Trail system. The day was sunny and warm and it was a new pleasure to be running along the riverbank. Running in this quiet setting made it easier to let my mind roam free, to contemplate the beauty of God’s creation, and to thank Him for the blessings in my life.
In the same way that it is easy to get into a “rut” with running, it is easy to get in a spiritual rut of just staying in your comfort zone. Sometimes you just need to mix it up a bit. I like the way John Ortberg captured this in the title of his book, If You Want To Walk On Water, You Have To Get Out Of The Boat. There is a world of hurting people out there and it is easy to forget that from the comforts of a padded church seat on Sunday or just reading the Bible from the comforts of your home during the week. Sometimes we need to be pushed out of our comfort zone to achieve something better.
I just experienced this last week when I had the pleasure of spending some time with Mark DeYmaz and his team at Mosaic Church in Little Rock, AR. For a preacher’s kid who grew up going to church in middle-class suburban America it was eye opening to see what they are doing as a multi-ethnic and economically diverse church in this long-neglected and ignored section of their city. By “being the community” they are helping bring life and love to the poorest and roughest areas of town. They provide free groceries to over 14,000 people in their zip code every year. They also provide clothing, friendly faces, and a safe place for people to come as they are. Life gets “messy” in this part of town (really it gets messy in every part of town, but we usually find ways to hide our messiness under nice clothes and fake smiles), and messy is not in the comfort zone of most people and most churches.
It’s easy and “comfortable” to just send money to help “the poor” when they are only a distant inner-city or third-world person you’ll never meet. It’s “uncomfortable” to reach your hand out and touch the hurting and needy personally when they are in your neighborhood and sitting beside you in your church. When they have a name and a face it is harder to pretend they don’t exist or that a few bucks in the offering plate will take care of everything.
It’s a hard prayer to say, because if you mean it, it could change everything, so I hope I’m ready and sincere in my heart when I say, “God please help me to have the faith to go beyond my comfort zone and follow where you lead me.” Are you ready to join me in running out of your comfort zone?