When I was a freshman in high school I joined the track team and signed up to run the two-mile. I chose that event for one reason: I figured the distance would scare away most of the competition. And I was right. While the lanes teemed with racers jostling for position in the 220, 440 and even the one-mile, the two-mile event usually attracted only five or six runners per meet at most. No one in their right mind wanted to race eight grueling laps.
When the crack of the start gun echoed across the empty stands that first race, I immediately fell into position two steps behind the lead runner. Our Nikes tossed up specks of gravel and white lane dust as I matched her stride step-for-step for the first lap. The second lap. The third and fourth laps. We lengthened the gap between us and the other three gasping runners. I could hear my competitor’s breath grow more and more labored as we rounded the final bend of the fifth lap. She hunched forward, her gait choppy and stumbling as she tired.
I felt fine. I wasn’t winded a bit. My legs moved fluidly as I focused my gaze on the runner’s shoes in front of me. But I stayed put in second place, always two steps behind the struggling leader.
I could see Coach Julie flailing wildly on the far side of the track. She moved her arms in wide circles, gesticulating toward the finish line. I knew she wanted me to pass the leader.
My dad bellowed from the stands, “Go, Shelly! Pick up the pace! Move! Move!”
Still, I stayed in my spot.
Finally, on the eighth lap, with barely 150 yards to go, I passed the leader on the final turn. I blew by her in a sprint and crossed the finish line the winner, barely out of breath.
Later, my coach congratulated me on my first win. “Great job, Michelle, you looked really strong out there…but you could have passed her a lot earlier. You hung back. Next time I want you to take a risk.”
Twenty-seven years have passed since that race. And I still often make the very same mistake: I hang back in the place I know, in my comfort zone, unwilling to take a big step forward and afraid to take a risk.
Yet when I look back at my faith walk so far, I realize that the times I’ve stepped forward out of my comfort zone, despite my fears and anxieties, have paid off big. Many of the challenges I’ve resisted the most vehemently have turned out to be major turning points in my faith:
Meeting with my pastor one-on-one to admit my deep-seated doubts and skepticism; purchasing my first Bible; enrolling in an adult education class to study the New Testament; joining a small group; volunteering to serve dinner at the local soup kitchen; presenting my testimony to an audience of more than 500 at my church; launching a faith blog; doing a live interview on a Christian radio station; broaching the subject of faith with work colleagues; attending my first Christian conference – these have been among the most fruitful and rewarding experiences in my faith journey…and they’ve also been among the most challenging and terrifying.
I know it’s important to sit back in a comfortable place from time to time. These resting periods allow us to dig deeper into our relationship with God and to grow quietly and contemplatively in our faith. But I also suspect that God doesn’t like us to get too comfortable. One doesn’t have to study the Gospels for very long to realize that they aren’t about living a comfortable, risk-free faith. The lives of the disciples and the early Christians attest to the just the opposite, in fact .
The truth is, living out the Gospels isn’t supposed to be easy. And God doesn’t expect me to breeze through the whole race in a comfortable place.
“You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally. I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-26, The Message)
We are doing a Beth Moore Bible study at church right now and we were discussing the things that oppress Christians and keep them from growing deeper in Christ. Someone mentioned fear and lack of courage as their personal oppressor. Your post reminded me of that and how taking a step of faith trusting God to make us bolder always results in growth. Thanks!
That sounds like a great study and a great discussion, Gaby. Can you believe I have never done a Beth Moore study? It’s on my list!
I struggle with hanging out in the comfort zone. But you’re right, God seems to show up when we step out of the boat if we keep our eyes focused on Him.
Oh yeah, Peter is such a great example of taking a God-inspired risk.
Glad to see you here, Amanda!
Dan and Duane: Thank you so much for having me here today — it’s an honor!
this was a great post that made me think a great deal today about the effort that i put into a lot of things in my life. and it doesn’t always mean that i need to DO more, but consider the effort. like when my wife is talking to me, am i listening attentively… and things like that.
i really appreciate the conversation that you’ve brought here today michelle! thank YOU!
How about attending a writer’s retreat? That freaked me out last year. This year too, actually. Oh well, it’s all good. (nice post!)
I have yet to attend a writer’s retreat, so that should tell you something. I did attend my first Christian conference ever last year with Deidra…I just about had a heart attack when all the thousands of worshippers raised their arms and shouted AMEN! in praise, and I stood there like a stick in the mud! In the end, though, it was a wonderful growth experience.
Thanks for your comment here, Bradley!
I’m in the same boat Bradley! And I can’t wait to see you there again this year!
Really good, Michelle! God has been calling me out of my comfort zone too. Still learning to let go and trust God. Many blessings!
Yup, it’s that trust thing again…kind of challenging sometimes, isn’t it?
Michelle, I love your honesty here.
I confess that I do love my comfy places. I must remember to stretch.
Nice running metaphor with the “remembering to stretch,” Sheila. And thank you — you are such an encouragement…
Thank you, Michelle. So nice of you to say so.
And as I think of it, what I need is not to remember to stretch, but rather to joyfully submit to His stretching of me.
I was just about to say that I’d registered for my first writer’s retreat and was in full, pre-retreat-what-have-I-done-panic meltdown. Then I saw Bradley’s comment below. Oh well, guess I’m in good company!
Nancy girl, you are going to SHINE at that retreat, I just know it. But I also know what you mean. I thought about attending She Speaks this year and completely chickened out. It will take me a year to gear up for that or perhaps Laity Lodge next year. You will grow so much though, that’s a guarantee — I can’t wait to hear about the experience and the results (and I can’t wait to meet you in person at Relevant…speaking of which, that’s my first Christian blogging conference, so I am a little wigged!).
I’m looking forward to meeting you at Relevant too, Nancy! And the Laity Lodge retreat? Piece of cake. It really is. A truly wonderful piece of cake.
Totally agree about the Laity Lodge Writer’s Retreats… I’ve always been a little intimidated, but last year was one of the most memorable, amazing experiences for me in recent history! We’ll miss you this year Deidra!
Featured this one at http://www.TheHighCalling.org tonight. #fistbumps all around for a brilliant piece.
Wow! I’m pumped that this got featured over at TheHighCalling.org!
@MichelleDeRusha did a fantastic job with this post, and I’m honored to be able to share it here!
Really great post. I am finding that every time Ii step out and take a risk, God is right there to meet me. And yet I still prefer to hang back where I’m comfortable. I appreciate how you identify those comfort zones as resting places we can move in and out of!
As a runner who’s completed a few marathons on my feet (definitely not bragging — my time would verify this), I always appreciate the race allegory. Good application regarding stepping out of one’s comfort zone. Giving the best can’t include coasting.