A couple of months ago in a prayer group I belong to, I asked as a general prayer request that I step outside of my comfort zone. Mainly because I felt I was getting too inert in the same-old same-old.
It's interesting when you pray for such things. God does seem to be listening.
At the beginning of August, I took a road trip from LA to Oklahoma for a literary conference. After months and months of driving city streets, it was great to get out on the freeway and just go. I traveled on Interstate 40, with the object of making Albuqueque the first day. I'd even made a hotel reservation there for the first night, so I sort of had to make it. 15 hours of driving. In very hot weather. But it was still an interesting day. Once I'd gotten beyond the reaches of Los Angeles, I'd popped the recording of John Cleese reading The Screwtape Letters into my player and enjoyed that (If you haven't heard it, you should. It's a wonderful recording.). Once that was done, I moved on to the unabriged recording of The Silmarilion.
When you fly from place to place, you never really get a sense of the land below you. Driving across the countryside, I was reminded of how vast the United States is, and how varied its landscape.
On day two, I was going to be covering territory where the weather was going to be iffy. The news in the morning before I set out had shown a swath of storm cells ahead of me on the interstate. But I took it in stride. Out from the edge of the hill country and into the plains region I went. And it was interesting, seeing storm clouds way off in the distance, usually to the north of me on the interstate. Twice I went through the fringes of a storm, where the rain wasn't hard nor long. And once, it did rain so hard, that I slowed down to 50, got in the slower lane, and kept the tail lights of the car in front of me in sight at 50 yards. Even the big rigs were doing that. But that didn't go on long.
And then I crossed into Oklahoma. I was still 100 miles from Oklahoma City, and suddenly there was a torential rain sitting over the Interstate. Grey sheets. Again with the slow speed in the slow lane. But when I realized I could not even see the tail lights of the car 50 yards ahead of me, I felt the stirring of panic. There were a lot of big rigs on the road, and the possibility of running into the back of something ahead of me, plus being crushed by something behind me flashed through my brain. So I got off at the next exit. The ramp went uphill slightly, and near the top of the exit was a moderately empty truck stop. So I pulled into their property, and u-turned, ready to pull onto the road again once the downpour stopped.
Then I noticed that the rain was not so heavy at the truck stop. I glanced back down at the Interstate, and sure enough, the torential grey sheet was still in place. I glanced to the south .... and there I saw broken sky, with sun-lit blue gleaming, ordinary clouds, and most important, dry road.
I sat there for a moment, marveling at how without even thinking, I'd gotten into a mind-set that had assumed that I had to stay on the Interstate. Even though I had the Rand-McNally Road Atlas, was in well-populated Oklahoma, and most importantly, knew how to read a map. And then I turned south and headed down the country roads, the dry roads, and went around the edge of the storm. Through lovely countryside, by the way.
But I continued to muse on how the Interstate had been the "comfort zone". Because it is clearly marked, I suppose. Because we know exactly where it's going, because it frequently tells us, along with the information of how far it is to the next major point.
How easy is it for us to stay with "what we know"! To assume that anything beyond those boundaries is going to be a problem of some sort. I was ready to sit and wait at that truck stop, to wait for the storm to go away. Who knows how long the storm would have stayed planted over a stretch of the Interstate? I suspect it might have been longer than I would have been happy with (after all, I had another hotel reservation at my destination). And yet, for a moment, I actually contemplated sitting there as long as necessary, because I knew the Interstate, knew what it was.
It gave me food for thought the rest of the trip. How much do I do that in other areas of my life? Waiting out things by the mainstream, rather than taking less traveled ways around a delay? Often enough, I think. When I got back home, I re-applied myself to working on building my main website, after months of delaying and dragging my feet because it was all so new and "not easy" for me. I went through the trial and error of learning that "landscape" and am now almost ready to launch the thing fully into cyberspace. And now I'm looking around me for other ways that I might be staying too long in "comfort zones", places where I'm too willing to sit out the rainstorm on the Interstate, rather than turning a different way and going around the storm by other roads.
It also occured to me that God doesn't really want us to get too comfortable. There are so many things we overlook when we stay in the safe, known paths. Too many things we miss. We miss the marvels of the countryside when we fly over it, to the point that it doesn't occur to many people to take the land route any more. What things they miss! But we also get into mindsets where we only travel the main thoroughfares, willing to sit in traffic when delayed by weather or construction or anything else. We've made the world so basically easy in the "usual course" that we don't often consider all our sideways options any more. They're not part of our regular calculations because we just don't need them much.
I've become curious about what God will make of that prayer request. So much so that I repeated it this month. What interesting things outside my usual comfort zone will God show me?