Confession: I am a comfort junkie. I’m a guy, so a lot of times, it’s my own pride and fear of how others will perceive me that keep me from taking risks. I want people to think I am smart and that I have it all together. Choosing comfort is way easier than risking failure. But the day I gave up being comfortable was the hardest (and best) day of my life.
When I reached college, I immediately found friends I loved. We held the same belief system. We valued the same things. We cared for one another, and it was safe for all of us. I was pretty content. Junior year, I started a tradition of cooking lunch every Wednesday for my roommates. I follow Jesus, so I’m a huge believer that community is vital. I made it very clear that anyone was invited. It was an investment I was willing to make for us to grow together and spend time with one another. And it was great.
But after a few months, I paused and looked around the table, and it hit me harder than a brick: We were all the same. We believed in the same things, we looked the same, we thought the same ways, and we mostly held the same opinions about everything. I was stuck in my own echo chamber.
I was comfortable sharing my belief system with them. I was comfortable with their thoughts because most of them thought like me. I only heard things that validated my own thought process and encouraged me to continue to live the life I was living. And suddenly, I wasn’t content with living that comfortable life for the rest of my college years.
I realized that I had thrown great opportunities away by sticking hard to my comfort zone. My entire life was predictable. I would walk the same path to class, talk to the same people, use the same coffee cup, sit in the same seat—all while neglecting those around me who were different than me. My comfort wasn’t cutting it anymore. In fact, it was suddenly clear that comfort kills growth. So what did I do? I decided I was done playing it safe, and I got to work.
Whenever I have a question in life, I first look at Jesus’ life. Whatever you believe about Him, most people agree he’s at least a pretty good guy. Whenever I look at His life, I see him running towards the people I was running away from. He hung out with the most unexpected people of His time. He went to dinner at a tax collector’s house named Zacchaeus. He hung out with a prostitute. He touched people who were really sick and who the rest of society shunned. His group of friends was made up of some scrappy fishermen, people with no social status, and people who really had nothing in common with Him.
Still wavering a bit, I thought, “God, do I really need to leave my comfort zone?” And I was reminded that He decided to leave heaven to come to this earth, live the perfect life, and die on the cross—all because he thought you and I were worth it.
So, OK, that’s a pretty clear message. College was full of people who had different stories, backgrounds, values, and thoughts than I did. I had two years of living in my comfort zone, but I had two years left to make an impact.
It started with saying, “Hey!” to the buff-looking frat star who kind of terrified me. Then some simple conversations with the cute girl in class next to me. If you’re reading this, cute girl, I really was just trying to be nice and not hit on you.
I invited my group project teams to work at my house so that I could bring the two groups together: my old friends and these new friends. Then we all started inviting different people into our house for those Wednesday lunches. Some never accepted the invitation, but some came and stayed. It grew into hanging out with people from different backgrounds, with different thought processes, who partied more, who had a different sexual orientation, and even people who liked to work out for fun. Before I knew it, I was meeting some of the coolest, most kind and incredible people I had ever met. I still talk with them and meet up with many of them often. Sure enough, we didn’t always agree. But I knew my job was not to correct anyone or tell them how to live their life; it was to first and foremost be a friend.
You know what happened by getting out of my comfort zone? I began to be a better person. I learned what it is like to listen. I learned what it is to be a friend when someone gives you a call at 3am needing a ride or a shoulder to cry on. I learned what it is like to show up to a party I wouldn’t usually go to because it would mean the world to my friend. I learned to relax more. Most importantly, I learned that if I’m not in genuine relationships with people I believe are far from God at a cost to myself, I have to question if I’m really following Jesus.
Today, it’s a lot more natural for me to hang out with different people. We have the coolest conversations. We go out for beers. We build things. We try new things. We talk about what we believe and why we believe it. We talk about our hopes, dreams, and aspirations. They teach me a lot and often give me ideas to process. There are times where we don’t see eye to eye, but we see the story that has shaped each of us. I am able to ask questions about their way of life, and they are able to do the same with me. We are all becoming better people and, in some cases, better Jesus-followers as a result of it.
I still hold on to some of my comforts, like taking the same route to work, drinking the same coffee, and eating lunch with the same people on most days, but taking a step out of my comfort zone in relationships has helped me see God’s footprints everywhere in the world and in the people He created. I see how they want their God-given talents to make this world a better place just like I do. We all want joy. We all want to be loved. They have changed my life completely for the best, and I want the same for you. Find those who are different than you. Yeah, it’ll be a little awkward at first, but press through. You’ll learn, you’ll be challenged, you’ll have fun, and it might be the best thing you’ve ever done.
Pretty words won’t change your life. This might:
What resonates with you most from Rico’s article? Why?
Think of the five people you spend time with the most. How similar or different from you are they?
What holds you back from more diversity in your friendships? And how could you make a change?