Thursday, May 21, 2020


This is the third in a series of periodic reflections on the "ordinary things" that many people do on a regular basis without much thought. During this pandemic, I am developing a need to "rage, rage" against hast and laziness and replace it with care and attention. My hope is to become personally more intentional about doing ordinary things with care and focused attention, while inspiring others to maybe do the same.  

"Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone"

I have learned from experience, ever since I left home at age fourteen of my own free will for minor seminary, that the secret to a full and rich life is to regularly take the risk of stepping out of your comfort zone.  I learned that, when you do, your world expands and you get a new perspective on your old world in the process. For some people, doing that is just way too scary. As Thomas Merton said, The biggest biggest temptation in life is to settle for too little."   

The opposite of "stepping out of your comfort zone," insuring that you have a very narrow life, is summed up in the words of an elderly woman from Appalachia when she was asked why she had never traveled more than two miles from where she was born and grew up. When asked about it, she answered, "I just don't believe in goin' places!"  

All my adult life, I have been very intentional about "stepping out of my comfort zone." As the Dr. Suess child's book says, "Oh, the Places You Will Go!" I have tracked my decisions to step out of my comfort zone and listed some of the rewards that have come to me for doing just that in my autobiographical book, Between Courage and Cowardice: Choosing to Do Hard Things for Your Own Good. I have tried to follow the advice of Thoreau who said, "Be the...Lewis and Clark of your own streams and oceans, explore your own higher a Columbus to whole new worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of is easier to sail many thousand miles through cold and storm and cannibals...than it is to explore the private sea; the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one's being alone..." 

As I said earlier, I have learned that, when you do step out of your comfort zone, your world expands and you get a new perspective on your old world at the same time. Nothing in my life has shown me that truth like my most recent "stepping out of my comfort zone," volunteering in the Caribbean missions of the poor little country of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.  I am often asked, "Why would a person like you, who could afford nice Caribbean cruises, stay in fine hotels and eat from luscious buffets in your retirement, choose to volunteer your time,  give your money and place your self in poverty, heat and potholes? 

The secret of stepping out of one's comfort zone is to realize that something new, something very good will ultimately come to you in the process. The worst approach to volunteering in the missions is to go there with a belief that you are the only one who has anything valuable to give and they are the only ones who have anything to learn. Often, its the opposite! 

Every trip down there, twelve of them so far, has been a learning experience for me. I went into it for this reason primarily - so that their situation would change me, not for me to change their situation. Seeing the contrasts regularly and so vividly, I have learned how stingy people who have everything can be, while how generous people who have nothing can be! Yes, I am there to help where I can, but I am also there to be helped! So far I have come home wanting less, wasting less, seeing things from a better perspective and being more generous and grateful in general - realizations I would never have come to without my stepping out of my comfort zone. 

Because of these experiences, I moved from not even knowing there was a country by the name of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines down in the south Caribbean to constantly wondering how this or that weather pattern, resource shortage or spreading epidemic is affecting the people I have met and gotten to know by name.  I have indeed been enriched by my "believin' in goin' places!"  As the Bishop down there wrote in a letter to me recently, "You have made many friends in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the last five years." I have indeed been enriched by that recent decision - to "step out of my comfort zone." 

You don't really have to always change your location to experience life differently. Sometimes all you have to do is change your perspective on what is right in front of you! You can actually "go places" right where you are!  As Thoreau, as I quoted above, said, "Be A Columbus to whole new worlds within you!" Start by being more intentional about the little things in your present life! 

And, you, how much is fear, laziness and the love of comfort  limiting the size of your world and the parameters of your experience? Stand up to your fear, laziness and love of comfort! Step out of your comfort zone! Do something you have never done so you can experience something you have never experienced! 

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