On Our Comfort Zones
(Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; 1Pet.3:15-18; Jn.14:15-21)
In 2018, scientists at Yale University found that when monkeys face a test with obvious results, parts of their brains basically shut down. It was only when they faced the unpredictable, when they left their comfort zones, that their brains lit up and they started learning. [i]
It’s the same with us. Inside our comfort zones, invisible barriers stop us from doing or learning anything new. And our brains switch off. It’s like being in a cocoon, a cage or a shell – we’re separated from the real world. However:
If caterpillars don’t leave cocoons, butterflies cannot fly.
If birds don’t leave their cages, they cannot taste the sky.
If crabs don’t leave their shells, they cannot grow; they die.
We’re not meant to be locked away. We’re meant to live life to the full!
Shonda Rhimes is the creator of the TV show Grey’s Anatomy. In a 2015 interview about her autobiography, The Year of Yes, [ii] she said, ‘My sister said to me, “You never say yes to anything”. By that she meant I never accepted any invitations… I never go anywhere. I never do anything. All I did was go to work and come home. And she was right. My life had gotten really small.
‘Once I realised that she was right,’ she said, ‘I was going to say yes to all the things that scared me, that made me nervous … Anything that took me out of my comfort zone I was going to do it, if asked to do it.’ [iii]
That was quite a challenge. But as Christians, the important thing isn’t saying ‘yes’ to just anything, but saying ‘yes’ to God – because the aim is to create a better world.
In 2005, at the start of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI said, ‘Christ did not promise an easy life. Those who desire comforts have dialled the wrong number. Rather, he shows us the way to great things, to the good (and) towards an authentic human life’. [iv]
In other words, God is inviting us to achieve greatness, to live extraordinary lives, by stepping outside our comfort zones and helping Jesus with his work.
In John’s gospel today, Jesus is in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, talking to his disciples. He knows they’re worried. For three years he has led them and loved them. They feel safe with him, but it’s time for Jesus to go, and it’s time for them to take up his mission. This means they must leave their comfort zones, but they’re scared. So, Jesus makes three promises:
Firstly, he promises to send his Holy Spirit to be with them. His Spirit will give his disciples all the strength and inspiration they need to continue his work. Of course, we are Jesus’ disciples today, so he’s speaking to us, too.
Secondly, Jesus promises, ‘I’ll not leave you orphans: I will come to you’. Here, he’s referring to his Resurrection, when he will return on Easter Sunday. He’s also referring to the way that he is always present to us in the Holy Eucharist, offering us his strength and love and the promise of eternal life.
And thirdly, Jesus promises his disciples that if we keep his commandments, he and his Father will reveal themselves to us.
What he means is that if we love Jesus and live the way he wants us to, then the Father, Son and Holy Spirit will make their home in us. They’ll help us see things in new ways, and they’ll make their presence in our lives clear to us.
Now, these are remarkable promises, but they mean we must be prepared to change, to live our lives in new and better ways.
Someone once said that life begins outside our comfort zone. If that’s true, then living inside our comfort zone really isn’t living at all.
In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI said: ‘If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation.
‘And so,’ he continued, ‘today I say to you, don’t be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. [v]
God created the birds, but he didn’t make the cages. It’s people who make cages, and too many of us choose to live in them.
It’s time to set ourselves free.
Let’s accept this challenge, and live as Jesus wants us to.