Comfort zone. Do you cringe when you hear that phrase? If you struggle with fear or anxiety, be it the hard-core panic attack version or just the tendency to worry and overthink (also hard to live with!), the quest for comfort and peace is difficult, and not everyone realizes the battle it takes to get there. Then someone says Get out of your comfort zone and live for God, and maybe you, like me, hear You are not enough.
Because, let’s face it, a whole lot us have a voice on replay in our heads that seems stuck on You are not enough.
Comfort Zone, when used by most people in a spiritual setting, means a place of false comfort based on false gods. If I stare at my phone all day, absorbing useless stuff, because it makes me feel safe and happy, and I refuse to do what God says because I’m afraid to leave that place, it’s a comfort zone. Yes. I need to leave that place. That place is, in my opinion, a blanket fort.
I want to trust God with all things and do exactly what He asks as soon as He asks. I don’t want to be a slave to fear. So I tell myself I’ll do better. But then I lose someone, or someone hurts me, or there’s a bad diagnosis, or the finances crumble, and all the evil in the world screams that I have been let down. I am alone. I have put my trust in something too wild and unpredictable, and I need to back off, hunker down, and crawl out of God’s hand into some dark corner where I can wrap in a blanket and pretend nothing else exists. And so a blanket fort is built, what some call the comfort zone.
Life in a blanket fort
Blanket forts are indeed comforting. Until, of course, your little sister jumps on it. Or the dog shoves his way inside. If you build it outside and try to live in it, the rain and the wind take it down. It collapses under a good snow.
Let’s not try to live in a blanket fort. It’s soft and comforting and seems so cozy, filled with familiar, happy things. But while it’s great fun to build one in real life and read away an afternoon, if our mental coping mechanisms are blanket forts… That’s not such a good idea.
I hate the term comfort zone, so from now on I’m calling it my blanket fort. If God calls you, don’t hide in your blanket fort. If life scares you and seems dark, and God is gently coaxing at the door of your fort, climb out. He’s likely calling you out not to ask you to do the impossible, but to rescue you from coming storms and hail and wind, which are going to crush you in your oh-so-wise hiding spot.
I think those of us with anxiety issues, or anyone dealing with pain or grief or mental illness or the like, tend to like blanket forts. And I’m going to blame the comfort zone police for some of this, because life outside the comfort zone has been terribly misrepresented.
Leaps and cliffs and other scary things
When someone says comfort zone, they often use terms like leap of faith. They may talk about stepping off a cliff and letting God catch them. The impression is that following God’s guidance is always somewhat terrifying. For those of us who find the boring parts of life difficult, like facing the mortgage bill after a layoff or visiting the grocery store or stepping into a small elevator or any number of phobic things, this whole jumping-off-a-cliff-to-prove-my-love-for-God… Um, no.
Also, some of us are not in a blanket fort, and we still get fingers pointed at us. When my anxiety is at its worst, I hold onto God for everything I’ve got, and yet to someone on the outside, it looks like I’m not doing anything.
Oh, anxious friends, grieving friends, depressed friends, introvert friends, I know what you’re going through. Some days we step off the cliff the minute our foot hits the floor in the morning. That leap of faith is calling the dentist or climbing into an elevator. God has to hold our hands, whisper in our ears, and steady our steps to get us to the church potluck.
They don’t understand, friends. The comfort zone police don’t see the battle, so they don’t comprehend that sometimes the mundane is the monster, and we have lived victoriously for God in ways they can’t fathom. But I get it. When I’m in the midst of a panic day, I give myself high fives for putting dinner on the table, even if it’s just peanut butter and jelly. No, people around me might not get it, but God is there cheering my PB&J meal, I have no doubt.
Because God’s call isn’t always what people think. And honestly, those people who do the super-brave things? They aren’t flying without a net. They have a comfort zone. Only it’s not a blanket fort, it’s a state-of-the-art, executive-style panic room. It’s impenetrable, secure, and comes with everything necessary to survive. Also, it’s earthquake, bullet, and tornado proof. It has a sturdy lock, and nobody gets in. The best part? Once we’re inside, we don’t have to leave to do God’s will. Why not? Because God built it, and it’s a fortress.
Maybe we should trade up. Give the blanket fort over to a fun-loving toddler for the afternoon and invest in a panic room. (And even from the panic room, some days we have PB&J victories. God is good with that.)
So what is this panic room, and how can I get one?
Let’s answer that with a question. What if the goal isn’t to leave the comfort zone but to grow it? What if I could get to the place where I was always in my comfort zone, because I was always experiencing the presence of God? If I was always under the shelter of his wings. If God was always my refuge, my fortress, my rock, my panic room. I could climb into my panic room, within the hand of God, lock the door, throw away the key, and let Him lead. And still, somehow, feel comfort. There’s a zone I’d love to find, and I promise I would never want to leave it.
I think I just defined trust, and wow, it’s a hard one.
Wouldn’t complete, total, and utter trust be awesome? To trust God’s goodness and His plans and His heart so fully that whether I’m at home in bed or speaking in front of a thousand people or facing job termination or staring at the door of the local hospital, I was okay with it? I knew I was not alone and not abandoned. I imagine God standing back watching, counting my discomfort as a sign of my faith. What if I saw the truth, that he was close, whispering in my ear the whole time, his hands fully wrapped around me, a spiritual bubble that nobody and nothing could possibly penetrate?
How do I get from fort to fortress?
I find myself asking how I accomplish that trust. Is there a five-step plan to trust God with every ounce of my being? How do I get from here to there? I wish I had easy answers. In fact, this dilemma is the meat of a whole lot of posts on this site—and the meat of many of my personal conversations with God, because there isn’t one easy answer. Well, there is, but it’s not easy to implement. Surrender. Surrender your dreams, your ideas, your expectations, even your fears, to God. Do that and you’ve learned trust and beaten fear.
If you know at all times that you are fully loved by God, you’re good. If you believe that his paths for you, even when they walk through the valley of death, even when they leave you a laughing stock in the world, even when they cause you pain and disappointment, are actually the best, good, right plans for you, you have it made. But that’s so much easier to say than to do.
First, I believe defeating anxiety and fully trusting God is a journey. Not always a linear one, either. Sometimes we circle back and cover the same ground again. Sometimes the path leads through lush jungles, and sometimes dry valleys. If we’re doing it right, it’s never boring. I believe a few things make that journey easier, some supplies and mindsets as we go, and if you scroll around my website, you see me chat about them.
I think life needs rhythms built into it, daily and weekly and seasonal rhythms as signposts on the journey. (Here’s my first round of thoughts on rhythms.) I think our backpack needs to have a worn copy of God’s Word, and we need know it inside and out, both as a source of comfort and as a weapon, because there are enemies on this road. We need to recognize those enemies and learn to skirt around them or fight them when we have to.
A Better Comfort Zone
Today we tackle the panic room. Okay, so God calls himself our refuge or fortress. Panic room is just my modern take on it, a place to be safe when the world comes calling. The true, deep, real, victorious comfort zone, where God will never ask you to leave. Breathe deeply, knowing that when you find God’s peace, you can stay there. He wants to be your fortress for good. Your refuge every day. He isn’t planning to shake you out of his open hand or shove you out from under his wings. Don’t fear that God wants you to get strong and be brave on your own. He never says that. He says he wants to be the comfort zone. Forever.
Knock down the blanket fort and start building the panic room, because it’s great in there, and from the safety of those walls you can do anything God asks, from making it to a PB&J night at the end of an anxious day to facing perils in a dark land. It’s all the same from the panic room. Check out these verses to see what God says about his protection. (Hint: He never says Go out and do it alone and prove something to me.)
A Few Verses about God as our Refuge
Psalm 62:8 Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. Psalm 5:11 But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. Psalm 25:20 Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. Psalm 36:7-8 How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. Psalm 61:3-4 For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings. Psalm 91:9-10 If you say, “The LORD is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. John 14:23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
The Panic Room Blueprint
Maybe none of these verses are new to you. And they just scratch the surface of the idea that God wants to be our refuge, our home, our shelter. He wants us to dwell with him. All the time. In any circumstance. Our real, true, eternal comfort zone.
So what are the steps to building this thing? First, you have to knock down the other forts, because it’s too handy to jump back inside. Then it’s a matter of knowing the Builder of the panic room. Read about Him. Hear Sunday sermons about Him. Taste and see, God says. A taste is small. If you don’t trust God fully in the first five seconds of your decision to surrender, that’s okay. Taste, chew, swallow, and then taste again. Keep ingesting the truths of God, and your stomach and heart and soul will fill with him, and the panic room walls go up, foot by foot.
If you’re stuck in a blanket fort, or if your panic room needs a little shoring up, take time today to ponder these verses or to find others that speak of God as a refuge, a shelter, a fortress, or a tower. Knowing God is the foundation of your panic room, your fortress. Behind those walls we are safe, whatever happens on the outside, so start a collection of verses of your own to remind you that the refuge of God’s love and care is where you are welcome and ought to be.
And when people harp on you for fighting a battle they don’t see, for living in a false zone of complacency when that isn’t what you’re doing? Don’t hear them. Hear God, from the safety of the real comfort zone, and let the rest go.