The thing with comfort zone challenges is that a) they are different for everyone, and b) you never know what lesson you are going to learn until you actually do them. To find a worthwhile comfort zone challenge you have to do a bit of introspection, and really explore what it is that scares you. Like all things that make life worthwhile, it takes a bit of work. I can tell you categorically that Googling will not provide the right answer (believe me, I’ve tried). You have to go inside… Or like me, you outsource, and ask someone who knows you inside and out. Take note though, doing this might not give you the answer you expected, or wanted to hear.
Case in point: when hubby suggested that I go to Church for my next comfort zone challenge my first response was “Whaaaaat?” Followed by a whole heap of excuses for what a stupid idea that was and how that wasn’t a comfort zone challenge and blah, blah, blah (are you hearing the resistance??). But he was adamant. So I took a few days to marinate in the idea and started to think ‘Shit, for some reason this makes me really uncomfortable. Maybe I do need to do it’. At this point I should point out that I am an atheist, well at least that is how I have previously identified, religiously speaking. I’ve always been more of a black vs. white, night vs. day, science vs. religion kind of person. To me, there was no grey. But as a progressive, liberal-thinking individual I tolerated other people’s right to religion – at least on the surface. Meanwhile I held a (mostly) unvoiced opinion that if you believe in God you must be stupid. I know, I know, I hate myself as I am writing this too. But after Sunday night, being so wholeheartedly welcomed into my first Sunday service, I feel that ‘tolerance’ isn’t good enough. How awful that we simply tolerate anything.
It took me a good few weeks to work up the courage to go to Church. I felt that I needed a strategy: you know, a plan or a list – or a plan to make a list! Surely one did not simply ‘show up’ to Church. But in the end that is what I did. At 5:30 on a Sunday night I walked into my local Anglican Church and attended their Sunday Mass. I sheepishly walked through the door and immediately felt like a total fraud. ‘What if someone finds out that I don’t believe in God – what if I’m exposed!’ I thought. Then again, given I’m not religious, what is the worst that can happen? It’s not like I’m going to Hell after all. But my nerves soon settled after I was so cheerfully welcomed by a young guy called ‘James’ who I assume must have been an assistant priest, pastor or other such thing. When I told him that I embarrassingly haven’t been to church since attending Chapel at school he smiled and said, in a completely non-judgemental tone, “Well it’s nice to have you back!” Phew, I thought, not busted yet!
As I walked further into the church I found myself a seat. The first thing I noticed was how comfortable I felt. Everyone smiled at me and said hi, despite not knowing me from a bar of soap. They were kind and welcoming without being in-your-face. Before going I half expected to have someone ‘selling’ God to me or convincing me to donate half my pay cheque. But it wasn’t like that at all and the whole service turned out to be great. I sang along with the upbeat and contemporary music and listened to the Priest interpret verses from the Bible, and yes I even ‘prayed’ along as the Priest asked God to provide support to the people affected by the earthquakes in Nepal. And despite not resonating with the God part, the ideas presented were still relevant – to me and to the kind of well-functioning society that I want to be part of. Even the prayers, whose central theme was of course God, demonstrated to me that no matter what religion we are (or are not), needing guidance, support and love is still very much part of the human condition.
As I mentioned before, you never know what lessons you are going to learn from getting outside of your comfort zone. Initially I came away from my experience feeling sad. I really enjoyed the experience and there was so much that I identified with and admired: a sense of community; supporting each other; finding meaning and purpose; showing kindness and compassion; and of course who doesn’t love a good old fashioned sing-a-long. But I felt that because I didn’t have the same faith in God, the glue that held all that together, I was never going to fully belong. I actually found myself envying these people, maybe even wishing I could be part of it. Frankly it was quite confusing to be feeling that way when previously I would have pitied or judged everyone in the room.
Now that I’ve had time to reflect on my experience, I realise that while I personally don’t need God to find meaning and joy in my life, I can understand why others do and I actually admire their commitment to their faith. I think the biggest lesson that I have learned from this experience, however, is the acknowledgement of how similar we all are. While I strongly believe we are all unique and we need to embrace what makes us individual, we shouldn’t forget that when it comes down to the essence of what makes us human, we really aren’t that different. I think that if we recognised the ‘human-ness’ in people more, that we wouldn’t have to just tolerate our differences, but understand them – and ultimately accept them.
I might not have personally started to believe in God as a result of going to Church, but I have started to see the shades of grey. Who says God and science cannot co-exist? Who says that because you believe in God and I don’t that either of us has to be right? Who says that any one of our differences should mean that we are not, ultimately, the same?