Barnabas loves to hike! It doesn’t matter if we’ve walked the same trail a hundred times; he acts like it’s a whole new experience. He runs and plays and wears himself out. And because he is so good at hiking off-leash, Jason and I can hike at our own pace. Barnabas knows his boundaries. He understands he is allowed to venture off the trail, run ahead, or lag behind as long as we are always in his sight. And Barnabas follows the rules better than any other dog we’ve had. He’ll run over to the side to study something and pop his head up every few seconds to be sure he can still see us. If we move far enough away that he loses track, he forsakes his current study and runs after us. He stops at every bend in the trail to ensure we’re never out of sight. Every hike is a pleasant experience for each of us, and we love that we can depend on him to be so cooperative. Despite his many quirks, he truly is a good dog!
When we took him out yesterday for some much-needed exercise, we did a portion of the trail we’ve only done once or twice with him, and we immediately noticed something. Because the path was unfamiliar to him, he stayed within ten feet of us at all times. He still explored and kept his own pace, but he never strayed too far from our presence. Once we reached the familiar portion of the trail, however, he let loose and did his own thing though still within the bounds of what he knows we expect of him. As we discussed his behavior, Jason made a comment that echoed the words of my prayer that morning. He said, “Yes, he stays close when in unfamiliar territory, but once he’s back in his comfort zone, he feels more comfortable to stray farther from us.”
During my prayer walk earlier that day, I had poured out my heart to the Lord about how far out of our comfort zones Jason and I felt lately. For me, I’m a creature of habit and routine, so the concept of being in a different church every week and always meeting new people is a bit overwhelming. For Jason, he is one who loves to be active and doing, so sitting at a desk for hours on end calling and emailing pastors and churches to book meetings is tiresome and tedious. We’ve both had to fight the temptation to say, “Let’s do something else today. Let’s do what we’re familiar with, what we’re comfortable with.” Some days, we have to make ourselves to what we know we need to do.
As I laid out my heart, a thought struck me, and I verbalized it to the Lord. “But maybe that’s the way you want it to be, Lord. Maybe you want us to be out of our comfort zones so we’ll stay close to You, so we’ll lean on You for strength and support. Maybe our time here is so we can learn to depend and trust on You more. So, Lord, please help us to keep this in mind when we get discouraged and want to quit. Remind us there’s a purpose for being in unfamiliar territory and give us the grace and strength to accept where we are.”
I guess we’re no different from Barnabas. When we’re in familiar territory, we tend to do our own thing and go our own way. Sure, we stay within sight of our Master, but are we really walking with Him? Once we’re out of our comfort zones, it’s an entirely different story. We stay close to the Master. We have to. We don’t know which way to go or what to do. We need His guidance. We crave His assurance. We depend on His knowledge and strength. Yes, in our uncertainty, we’re less likely to stray. And considering that—as difficult as it is for me to say—I thank God for removing us from our comfort zones. I praise Him for loving us enough to lead us through unfamiliar territory. The entire process serves as another reminder that what I think is good is not always what is best. Thankfully, God knows the difference!