Rubber Balls, Mini-Vans, and Comfort Zones

Exercise is good for me, this I know. The super-toned, peppy lady on the video told me so.

Some days, though, my head knowledge does not always translate to a physical “want-to.” Can you relate?

Slogging through a cardio-pilates video, I listened to the perky coach talk about motivation. Usually these pep-talks are comprised of, “You’re doing great! Get after it! I’m proud of you! You’re gonna look great in that bikini this summer.” Which makes me wonder, “How do they know I’m not just sitting here with a box of Krispy Kremes and a venti caramel macchiato?”

And seriously, a bikini? That’s never been a goal of mine!

But this coach was different, which is likely why I finished the video in full steam and have repeated it since.  She didn’t congratulate a ghost audience for unknown accomplishments or offer false cheerleading. She simply stated that her own motivation for physical fitness wasn’t aesthetic beauty—though that can be a byproduct. She said she wanted to be able to handle whatever life threw at her with a body that functioned like an athlete’s. Whether it was sprinting across an airport, carrying heavy bags of groceries, or getting on the floor with kids, “I want my comfort zone to be very large.”

That last phrase has rolled around in my head for months. I like the idea of enlarging my area of comfort. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. Able to keep up with my kids and go on adventures together with them. Able to handle the highs and lows of living; able to withstand whatever trials and tribulations lay in my path. I know that exercise is key to my body being able to meet the needs of the day.  But emotional and spiritual strength? I know exercise has proven to aid in a feeling of well-being, but it cannot prepare or sustain me when life sucker-punches me in the gut.

I’m a wordsmith—I like words and I like their meanings. Webster defines exercise as a matter of using our muscles in such a way that they grow. The Holy Spirit, given to us when we first believed and were born again into the family of God as a seal and a promise of our hope in Heaven (Ephesians 1:13), gives us the power and grace we need for every moment (1 Peter 1:3).  Exercising our faith, our trust in the ONE who has promised to stand by us and help us through, is an act of expanding our comfort zone.

The church talks a lot about the need to get out of our comfort zones, reaching out to people in all walks of life. But what if, instead of stepping out of our comfort zones for an hour or two to serve soup to the homeless or go on a mission trip some place new, we deliberately chose to push out the walls of our zones? What if we decided to undertake a comfort zone renovation, tearing down the walls of our own preferences and opinions? What kind of a people would we be?

Hooke’s law of elasticity states that an object under deformation (typically tension or compression) will return to its original shape when released like a spring or rubber band. [The Physics Hypertextbook,].  Basically, the rubber bouncy ball your minivan just parked on top of will bounce back into shape after you reverse.  If I view my comfort zone like that rubber bouncy ball, and the mini-van as uncomfortable situations that are definitely squeezing me out of my comfort zone, I needn’t fear! [Stick with me here.] As soon as the minivan of life reverses, the weight will ease and my comfort zone will bounce back to the way it was and I can go back to my same old self. Whew! I can even glory and praise the Lord that my momentary trials are over and I can “get on with life” in the zone.

But there’s a problem with this kind of thinking. That bouncy ball hasn’t changed. It has shifted for a moment due to outside forces, but it will go right back to its original form. Unchanged. Unaffected.

The metaphor ends there. I’m not recommending we go out and deliberately seek to be run down by minivans. I am not a bouncy ball. I am suggesting that believers need to be able to truly change, to grow with the circumstances around us–not just bend with full intention of retaining our original mindsets. It’s important to be able to flex in this world, but spiritually speaking there is huge value in humbly recognizing our need to grow and remaining malleable in the hands of the Holy Spirit. Clay…not rubber. This is sanctification.

Seeking to enlarge our borders of contentment—not just for the sake of change, not for bragging rights, but to seek to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord, Jesus Christ—that is the kind of comfort zone challenge that is life changing. If we remain rigid and refuse to change, we run the risk of either shattering (emotionally and spiritually) under the pressures of life or becoming reclusive, refusing to interact with the world around us, and neglecting the commission each of us has been given to be salt and light in a dark and dying world.

I want my comfort zone to be very large. Life is guaranteed to throw trials and frustrations and new and scary situations my way. We cannot live inside a bubble. How we face those trials is key—we can either grow in grace, enlarging our comfort, or we can grow bitter and brittle, breaking under the weight of circumstance.



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