We all have our comfort zones-those places that we like to operate out of-even if they are unhealthy, misguided, or short-sighted. After all, we are comfortable! I have watched myself do things repeatedly ‘wrong’ simply because it’s comfortable and I know what the result will be. I often know that I’m in the wrong but I figure that I have time to stop what I am doing and figure out a new pattern…some day…just not today while I am comfortable. Some things I have been doing/thinking so long that years ago I figured they were just an integral part of me that could not be changed. Simply stated, “This is who I am” or “I came this way”. But the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that we CAN change. ANYthing about us that we see as an obstacle to our happiness, our relationships, our progress, our exaltation, can change. But, we have to be willing to get out of our comfort zones and that’s where it gets uncomfortable.
As I have been reading 1 Nephi the last few weeks, one thing that has stood out to me is the systematic way that the Lord pulled Nephi out of his comfort zones so that he could grow, progress and become the consummate man of God that he needed to become. I don’t for a minute think that Nephi was jumping for joy every time this happened; on the contrary-at times we can see his hesitation. (And that man must have been on his knees an awful lot to overcome his feelings of inadequacy and uncomfortableness in his new situations.) But one of the great lessons of Nephi is that he went with the God-flow. He did, in fact, take the course designed by God and he did in fact overcome his fear of the unknown by learning to trust in God implicitly. Uncomfortably though, he had to go through some VERY EXTREME circumstances in order to move forward and solidify that trust. This is a true pattern for getting out of our comfort zones and progress towards Father-extreme circumstances that we don’t really want. Does this pattern of living in undesirable extreme circumstances ring true to our lives?
Take for instance the commandment that Lehi receives in 1 Nephi 2:1-4 to take ‘nothing with him’ and depart into the wilderness a three days journey (2:6). We find in verse 4 and later in chapter 3 that what was left behind was not a poverty-stricken situation. Lehi had a house (they were not accustomed to living in tents), a land of inheritance (vast property), gold and silver (monetary wealth) and other precious things (probably lovely furnishings and items of COMFORT). Nephi calls their property ‘all manner of riches’ (3:16) and ‘exceedingly great’ (3:25). It was so enticing and great that it excited the greedy heart of Laban who ‘did lust after it’ (3:25) even though he already had his own riches and power. In other words, wandering in the wilderness, living in tents, suffering deprivation was not a comfortable situation for this family. And this three day’s journey was more of a base camp to acclimate them than it was a final resting spot just avoid the destruction of Jerusalem. For the Lord had a huge, ultimate plan for the family which included living on a completely different continent in a whole new circumstance. Talk about leaving comfort zones! They were allowed to stay a three days journey from Jerusalem for a time; but then they even had to leave that spot and move deeper into the wilderness. To complicate matters, they were not relieved of all of the hardships and necessities of living in a wilderness. It was not a vacation. It was not a two-week test. It lasted over eight years. Take a look at some more of their violated comfort zones:
1.They kept receiving instructions to pick up and leave.
2. They had to carry their provisions with them (16:11)
3. They ‘suffered much for the want of food’ which food was eaten raw (16:19, 17:2).
4. Nephi and Co. had to return to Jerusalem to get the brass plates from Laban. Another treatise on comfort zones right here in this story. (Chapter 3-4)
5. They had to return to Jerusalem to convince Ismael to accompany them into the wilderness. We don’t know much of that story, but he came! (Chapter 7)
6. Lehi’s sons married Ismael’s daughters who then gave birth to children in the wilderness. Even Sariah had two more children during their wilderness travails. They had to become strong like men to carry their burdens. (16:7, 17:2, 18:7)
7. At one point, Nephi’s bow breaks…his good, sturdy, steel bow…and his family is left without means to hunt. (Nephi does solve this problem but that’s another post.) (16:18-19) Even Lehi gets a bit cantankerous about this point. (16:20)
8. Ismael dies and his daughters mourn exceedingly (16:35). Their father, a comfort zone, is gone…
9. Nephi is repeatedly and severely physically abused by his own brothers.
10. Nephi is commanded to build a boat. He is neither an engineer nor a carpenter. (Chapter 17-18)
And this is just the beginning of new beginnings. They have to cross an unknown ocean, settle an unknown land and eventually suffer the pain of family separation when the sons cannot coexist after Lehi’s death. What we see are small and personal comfort zones rocked inside the huge story of leaving their biggest comfort zone of all-home. A story within a story. If we think that they got used to this, Jacob’s words tell a different story: for ‘our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out of Jerusalem born in tribulation, in a wilderness, and hated of our brethren…” (Jacob 7:26) Even Laman and Lemuel’s musings are completely understandable: ‘Behold, these many years we have SUFFERED in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea, and we MIGHT HAVE BEEN HAPPY.’ (17:21)
These are haunting words. And how often have WE wondered why we must be ripped out of our comfort zones to wander in unknown wildernesses or cross unchartered waters or SUFFER unneeded deprivation or live in uncomfortable circumstances whether it be physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual. social, or financial when we could have stayed in our ‘lands of inheritance’, our comfort zones and been happy! Why change? Why?
Some changes in life are in our control and some are not. Perhaps we are taking on a new calling, a new role (mother, wife, sister-in-law), a new job or we are navigating new circumstances because of someone else’s choices. Are we uncomfortable? Wondering why we can’t be happy? Wondering why it’s so hard? All righteous and holy people have to be taken out of their comfort zones…progression is just what the word suggests-forward movement and we can’t move if we are stuck even if we are stuck in an acceptable place. No one who desires to see God again will be standing and waiting. Those who learn to be moved out of comfort zones that they may be moved toward their promised land are the ones that will some day be comfortable always progressing- which is the way of God.