The Spiritual Practice of Stretching Oneself: Moving Past Fear to Live in the Kingdom
Twenty years ago this little country girl landed in Cuba.
Two soldiers clad in olive green and clutching automatic weapons stood outside of the plane's jet-way as I caught the first aromas of Cuba heavy in the Caribbean air. Immediately, my nose began to itch from the sting of diesel fumes and sweat. I whispered to myself, “Dea, you aren’t in Ar-kansas anymore.”
After gathering my duffels, I stood in a line with our mission team to process through customs. Each one of us would have to go through the process of entering the country one at a time. Alone. When my turn came, I stepped up to the kiosk and looked down at the customs officer sitting in a chair. He opened my passport and looked up at me. His countenance was expressionless, flat. It unnerved me. The only movement on his face was his eyes. The dark irises studied me intently, lingering on my face for so long I had to resist the urge to turn away.
Beyond the kiosk was a wall of doors with no windows. On the other side of those doors was Cuba, but I couldn’t see it. The officer buzzed me through. The lock clicked open; the sound startled me. I needed air. Taking a deep breath, I stepped through into the unknown.
I think back to that night and remember how I battled fear. Cuba was an enemy of the United States, at least the government was. I was on a mission of love. I was sure that it was God’s plan that I go. Though I have a bit of an adventurous spirit, the trip stretched me in many ways. Looking back, my trips to Cuba were transformative like no other place I’ve ever traveled.
They weren’t easy trips, but they were good.
I could have stayed home. God could have used someone else---anyone else, but He was willing to use me if I would trust Him.
Last week, I loaded my striped duffel into my car and headed out on an eleven-hour road trip to Ohio to attend a writing retreat. Going to writing retreat shouldn’t be anything like going to Cuba except it was---in one way: I was afraid.
I wasn’t afraid of riding across the interstates of America alone, but I was afraid of what I might find out about myself when I got there. It’s taken me a long time to call myself a writer. I’ve been working at it for years, but I have never called it my vocation. I feared I was an imposter, barging in on a party where I would be found out to be a fraud.
So why am I sharing this? There are two reasons:
First, I'm sharing what I learned, and am still learning, to encourage you so that you'll consider the spiritual discipline of stretching yourself, of getting outside of your comfort zone as a means of growing in the Kingdom of God. I’m not talking about being reckless. I’m talking about living by faith and walking paths where it is necessary to lean deeper into your dependence on God and his Presence.
All of us have little kingdoms we have built where we are comfortable. They’re really cozy. They are padded with people who love us despite our quirkiness and bad habits. Within our little kingdoms are pantries stocked with our preferences. The indentions in the furniture are in the shape of our bums.
Our little kingdoms are places of refuge, but if we want to grow as people we need to enter into the spiritual practice of stretching ourselves, of embracing vulnerability so that we have the opportunity to grow in faith and in our vision of God's world and our place in it.
The other reason I share is a confession. I admit that it took a nudge from a friend before I engaged in the stretching process of attending a writer’s retreat. Without her urging, I would have stayed home.
We all deal with fear, but we don’t easily admit it. Sometimes we fear our physical safety; other times we avoid risk to protect our egos. Empathy concerning living with fear is an untapped well. Admitting our fears feels as vulnerable as facing them. We need each other to live in a world where fear threatens to keep us from growing in our faith. Fear sits on the edges of our lives like the soldiers wearing olive green, intent on intimidation. We need others to walk with us past those fears into the expanding life of God’s love, provision, and grace.
I’m grateful for my little kingdom, but getting out of my comfort zone last week reminded me that growing, changing, and becoming haven’t ended in the second half of my life. God has more for me if I am willing to trust him. I've never gone on a transformative journey that didn't include others. God puts us in families, tribes, and friendship circles. He knows what we need.
I’m praying in faith that I will continue the process of becoming by stretching myself. I'm intent on embracing courage even as I edge closer to heaven. I hope you'll join me on The Way that leads to life.
Do you struggle with fear? How has it held you back? What are your strategies for overcoming fear?