Letting Go of our Comfort Zone (What if Jesus had read What Color is Your Parachute?)


The life of Salvadore Dali also represented a life of contradiction.

The life of Salvadore Dali also represented a life of contradiction.

Today is Good Friday, and I wanted to write something to honor that, so I looked around and found a good question to explore that grew out of insights by two specific authors.  And the question is, in this world where fulfillment is found in Following Our Bliss, Doing What We Love So Money Can Follow, and Finding Our Passion, how do we reconcile the fact that there are countless spiritual leaders who actually wound up doing something completely foreign to the talents and interests they started with?  

Here are just a couple of examples that I can think of, and there are more to follow in quotes I will provide:

Albert Schweitzer:  He was trained as a classical musician and a theologian.  He was a huge success at both, with a great future ahead of him. But at the age of 30 he walked away and became a doctor in equatorial Africa.

Moses:  Had a great political position all lined up with the Pharoah.  He could have worked for his people “on the inside” using his charisma and intelligence and drive.  But he walked away and faced all manner of hardship to see his people out of Egypt to the promised land.

St. Francis:  He was a lover of beauty and fine things, having been brought up in wealth.   But he rejected his wealth and the approval of his parents to take care of lepers and live off the land.

It makes me think of the word we commonly use interchangeably with vocation, and that is “calling.”   But when we are looking for our life’s purpose it is we who are looking for something that will please us, suit our talents, fulfill our needs.  We seek out career counselors to this end, we promote our achievements, we imagine ourselves in one career or another and think about what kind of recognition we will earn as a result.   How can we answer a call when we’re so busy talking to ourselves?

The two authors that have inspired me today are both of a contemplative tradition:  Evelyn Underhill and Richard Rohr.   In their writings, they both bring out the same point:  that sometimes we are the first to be surprised at how God decides to use us, but if we are interested in God’s purpose for us, maybe we should step back and just listen for a while.  Then, when we have listened, we must get up and act.

That growth [into the spiritual life] and that response may seem to us like a movement, a journey, in which by various unexpected and often unattracive paths, we are drawn almost in spite of ourselves–not as a result of our own over-anxious struggles–to the real end of our being, the place where we are ordained to be…

There are countless ways in which this may happen:  sometimes under conditions which seem to the world like the very frustration of life, or progress, or growth.  Thus… the lover of beauty is sent to serve in a slum, the lover of stillness is kept on the run all day, .. and in these apparent frustrations the life of the spirit emerges, and grows…

St. Paul did not want to be an apostle to the Gentiles.  He wanted to be a clever and appreciated young Jewish scholar…St. Ambrose and St. Augustine did not want to be overworked and worried bishops…St. Cuthbert wanted the solitude and freedom of his hermitage on the Farne, but he did not often get there….In all these a power beyond themselves decided the direction of life.  Yet, in all we recognize not frustration, but the very highest of all types of achievement.” — Evelyn Underhill, The Spiritual Life

In his book Simplicity, Richard Rohr takes the same insight and challenges us with it:

First you have to learn:  what does it mean to be in Christ, or not to be in Christ?   You see this psychologically in every person who grows in his or her faith:  the more you become sure of your own center, the more you can also open your boundaries.  Otherwise you’ll spend your whole life defending those boundaries….

The change we seek has to be very concrete, very immediate and very practical.  Otherwise it’s just an intellectual thing.  For most of us, this means turning to people who are different from us.  This is the only thing that can liberate us from our egocentric attitude.  Maybe it means that as younger men and women we go to the elderly, or maybe as healthy persons we go to the physically and mentally handicapped, or if we’re homophobic we work in an AIDS hospital.  But we all have to set out into a world in which we’re not number 1, where others whom we meet are not just an expanded version of ourselves.”  Richard Rohr, Simplicity

In other words, to grow in my spiritual journey, to take up my individual cross, it seems that I must let go of my comfort zone; let go of my past accomplishments which are so easy to rest on; and I must let go of my ego.  I admit, I have not succeeded in doing that by a long shot.  So, today, on Good Friday, I will try to open myself, and to join Christ in Gethsemane and pray to the Father, “Not my will, but thine be done.”

Note:  Another excellent book that I used to meditate on this topic was Leading Lives That Matter:  What We Should Do and Who We Should Be, edited by Mark R. Schwehn and Dorothy C. Bass.