Growing up, I hated sleepovers. I preferred the familiarity of my own bed, and I really liked being asleep by 9:00 p.m. Talking to people also scared me to death, so rather than participate in the sleepover’s requisite games and ghost stories, I was the kid who hid in the corner.
My mom saw my tendency to hide, so from a relatively young age I was lovingly pushed out of my relational comfort zone. Beginning at age 13, I had to call and make my own doctor appointments. I hated doing that. I begged my mom to do it for me, but she refused. She also refused to speak for me once we arrived at the appointment.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized the value of pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I now know that my mom wasn’t trying to be mean — she was simply encouraging me to not be afraid of trying new things. If I’d had my way as a child, I’d probably lack basic social skills and wouldn’t have pursued higher education or traveled internationally, among other things. I’m glad that’s not the case (thanks, Mom).
Your struggle may not be as basic as knowing how to socialize with your peers. You may just be stuck in a rut or in need of a professional or personal challenge to take things to the next level. Either way, we all have areas where we can grow. Here are several practical steps you can take as you seek to push yourself.
1. Discover potential areas of growth.
It can be hard to see your own blind spots; that’s why it’s helpful to ask those closest to you for some honest feedback — whether about your behavior, attitude, relational skills or something else. Receiving their words may not be easy, but it’s the first step to growth. Take your friends’ feedback to the Lord and ask Him to speak His truth into what they’ve shared with you.
2. Do at least one hard thing every day.
After you’ve identified a few areas of potential growth, do something about it. If you struggle with being late to work, find a way to make yourself wake up earlier. If you struggle with time in the Word, find a plan that you can realistically stick to, and get accountability to make it happen.
I try to challenge myself every day in my own areas that need improvement. Sometimes it’s as simple as calling to make an appointment, because — let’s be honest — I still don’t enjoy calling strangers on the phone. Other times it’s pushing myself harder on a run, driving a new route, applying for graduate school, or even forcing myself to spend time with people when I’d prefer to stay home.
3. Do something you’ve never done before.
I’ve discovered the joy in doing things I never thought I could do. When I was a senior in high school, I challenged myself to run cross country. I went from not running at all to running 40 miles a week. I felt so accomplished the first time I ran three miles without stopping.
Two years ago I did something really crazy. Given my fear of social situations, it baffled even my family. I left behind all my familiarity and went on the World Race — an 11-month missions trip. I went from hating sleepovers to spending a year sleeping in 72 different beds (I counted) across 16 different countries, sharing the love of Jesus with complete strangers. That, my friend, is a testimony of the Lord’s gentle faithfulness and encouragement in my life.
These things originally seemed impossible because I believed the lie that I couldn’t change. But our God is in the business of change. So step out and let the Lord shatter your own expectations.
4. Challenge yourself in your walk with the Lord.
A life of challenge also extends to our walk with Christ. As believers, we’re called to grow. In Jesus’ conversations with people in the Gospels, we see Him challenge them all the time. He challenged the rich young ruler to sell all he had. He challenged the status quo in the temple market when He turned over the tables. And He challenged the religious leaders’ thought processes constantly. Jesus lived a life of challenge, and that’s exactly how we are called to live as Christians.
Challenging myself spiritually means seeking a mentor even when I feel uncomfortable approaching someone. Or it means committing to a year-long Bible reading plan. It also means memorizing Scripture, leading a Bible study and mentoring others. These are all hard things that may not have an immediate reward. But over time, I’ve recognized my growth in the Lord through small, consistent steps.
5. Reflect on your journey.
I love looking back and seeing how far I’ve come, and journaling has been instrumental in that process. What seemed hard yesterday is now part of normal life today. As you embrace a life of challenge, be sure to write about it. Then go back and reflect on your journey.
You can also start a reverse bucket list where you write down things you’ve done that you never thought you could do. Here’s a sample of my reverse bucket list:
Melanie’s Reverse Bucket List
- Write an article for Boundless
- Travel to 25 countries
- Go to graduate school
- Teach at a university
- Run a half marathon
- Climb a 14er at night
- Intern at Focus on the Family
Don’t let your love of comfort or your fear of failure hold you back from stepping into the unknown. Live a life of challenge and deliberate growth. You’ll learn a lot about yourself, and you’ll discover that God has so much more for you than you ever could have imagined.
Copyright 2019 Melanie Morgan. All rights reserved.