“Success lies outside of your comfort zone.”
One of my band directors in high school (shoutout to Daniel Kirk) used this phrase as a motto for our band to teach us the value of hard work, but I had no idea how it would come to effect and define my life one day. While in Jamaica for my first mission trip the summer before my junior year of high school, I realized that this “motto” was really applicable to life outside of band, and that “success” could be defined in different ways.
One day during the week, we took a break from the manual labor of building houses and were sent to the “infirmary,” which was basically a hospital for people who had been cast away from society by their families due to a disability, deformity, or mental illness. Our job there was just to be with the residents, entertain them, and show them the love of Jesus in whatever ways we could.
When we arrived, I was horrified with the conditions. We had been warned that it was not for the faint of heart, but I was not prepared for what I saw. A large number of people occupied the open-air hallways and corridors, most lying on beds, but a few walking around or sitting on the concrete floor or dirt. Some wore clothes, but some did not. The air reeked of old urine and feces and other smells I don’t want to recall. There were soiled clothes and sheets, old trays full of food garbage, and medical supplies lying around. The residents were living in terrible conditions, with minimal (and not loving) care, and received nothing more than a few meals a day and a shower once per week (if they were lucky). They were not treated as human beings, and it made me physically ill to witness. As I walked around, taking it all in, I could hardly bare it. I felt guilt, anger, sadness, disgust, and just about every negative emotion I could at the moment. Eventually I bit my lip and got to “work.” After a full day of being emotionally exhausted entertaining and loving on the residents, we got back on the bus to return to the compound in which we were staying. I cried the whole way home.
That night we had some time alone to process our experience at the infirmary and then came together to share. During my time I prayed for the people living there and confessed my initial unwillingness to “care for the least of these.” For some reason, as I was praying this and asking God for forgiveness for my selfishness and disgust that had led me to inaction, He kept bringing to my mind, “Success lies outside of your comfort zone,” something I had heard a thousand times from Mr. Kirk. I pushed it aside, but it kept coming back. Eventually we got back together and the leader asked people to share their experiences with the group. He also asked if anyone was interested in going to the infirmary for a second day; they could take a couple people back the next day to do the same thing. I immediately shut down that notion, but in my head came, “Success lies outside of your comfort zone.” When it came to me to share, I realized that God was asking me to get out of my comfort zone and go back to the infirmary for the second day. I wept and shared with the group that I would rather do anything but go back to the infirmary, but for some reason, I knew that God was calling me to go back the next day.
The next morning as I boarded the green and yellow bus, I dreaded what was to come. After the long ride through the pothole-laden mountain roads of Jamaica, we reached the infirmary once again. As I got off the bus, I prayed, “God, I don’t understand why you have me here. Help me. I can’t do this.” Just then, a woman with no teeth smiling ear-to-ear skipped up to me and gave me a huge hug. She smelled of urine, but she was so excited that I couldn’t resist hugging her back. She grabbed me tightly by the hand and immediately led me to a large woman sitting on a bench outside one of the wards. She was obviously blind and was not able to communicate verbally with me either. I don’t know if she could understand me at all. The woman who had led me there took my hand and placed it on top of the blind woman’s hand. As she felt the contact of my hand on hers, she immediately got the biggest grin on her face and began to bounce my hand up and down, giggling enthusiastically. This continued for about an hour. I cried as I realized that I had maybe given this woman love and joy for the first time in a very long time, just from a little bit of physical contact and company. Eventually, the woman got tired and let go of my hand.
I walked to go eat my packed lunch and met up with my friend who had come too. After lunch, we walked around a bit, saying “hello” to everyone we came across. We read Bible stories to a few people and sang songs as well. One man told us his story of losing his legs at an accident at a banana plantation. His family had not been able to pay for him anymore so they sent him to the infirmary. He was laying outside against a wall, unable to get to his bed, he obviously had some kind of infection or sores on his amputated legs. The nurses wouldn’t help him, he said. We asked if we could pray for him and he enthusiastically agreed.
After a while I moved on to a new building and sat down by a man who looked as if he did not have much life left in him. I grabbed my Bible and turned to Psalm 23. The man grabbed my hand as I started to read. His eyes got wide and tears started to run down his cheeks. There was another man in the bed next to us who started yelling, “Hallelujah! Praise God! Hallelujah!” The man holding my hand did not let go and thanked me by squeezing my hand even harder for a few minutes as tears of joy ran down his face.
As it came time to leave, I could hardly believe what had happened. God used me as his hands to hold and his mouth to speak words of truth, hope, and love directly from Him to His poor, outcast children. God had called me out of my comfort zone in order to rely on Him and bring glory to His name by loving these men and women. He had blessed others through me deciding to taking a step of faith, and He had also blessed me and grown me in so many ways that day too. So the “success” found outside of my comfort zone wasn’t what the world would define as success, but I grew closer to the Lord and brought others closer to Him, and that is God’s purpose for us here on this Earth. How much more successful could I be than to fulfill God’s purpose for me on Earth?
I honestly had forgotten about this story until today as I was reflecting on my time here in Slovakia. Looking back on the decision to take a year off of school to move here and do ministry I was thinking about this concept of “Success (lying) outside of your comfort zone.” Everything about this year was outside of my comfort zone…coming into it I had no ministry experience, struggled with conversation, was still in school, etc. But God called me to take this leap of faith into the unknown, and I am SOO glad I took it. It has been the hardest and most rewarding year of my life thus far. He has done some incredible (and terribly challenging) things to grow me closer to Him and to bring others closer to Him through me. He continues every day to ask me to step out of my comfort zone to initiate conversations, share my faith, and even get out of bed in the morning sometimes. God gives me the strength and the words to do what He asks of me every time without fail, and the more I trust in Him, the more He gives me to trust Him with. It is a beautiful and glorious thing to experience: to be completely reliant on a God that you can trust completely because He is the maker of the universe.
God has promised to help us when we are putting our trust in Him.
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
So, if there is something outside of your comfort zone that God might be calling you to, go for it. Trust in Him to provide, and take the leap. It might be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but it will be worth it. That space outside of what we think is easy, comfortable, or attainable is where God works the most in and through us. He makes us “successful” not in the eyes of the world, but in what counts for eternity. I want to change the quote and say that it’s not success but,
“Eternity lies outside of your comfort zone.”