By Barb Stanley
The cup of coffee was burning my hand. Not because it was so hot, but because I knew in a moment it would leave my hand in a way that I did/didn’t want it to. I took a deep breath and eyed my neighbor. She was right where I had/hadn’t hoped she would be. I gripped the coffee and took a step forward. Things were about to get uncomfortable.
Have you ever been really uncomfortable? Now, I don’t mean the kind of uncomfortable that comes with trying to fit into a pair of stiff, newly washed jeans, or the kind of uncomfortable that makes your neck hairs stand up on end. I mean, have you ever felt uncomfortable because you were thinking about doing something that you knew you should do, but you really (down deep) didn’t want to do because it felt hard? Have you ever been uncomfortable like that?
I was asked this very question recently, except it was phrased a bit differently. It went like this: “How did you end up leading a ministry?”
Now, hold on for a second, I see what you are thinking. Those two questions aren’t anything alike. But, the truth is, they are actually one and the same.
The way that I got into ministry was that my church called me, out of the blue one day, and asked if I would be interested in a part-time job working in the church office. As it happened, I had decided to start looking for a part-time job that very day. So, I met with our Pastor and his wife, and assured them that I would be great as an administrator, then promptly went home from the interview and Googled ‘What is Excel’. Anyway, long story short, it was through this job and the people who poured into me over the years that I ended up in ministry. However, that is not the real answer to how I got where I am today, because the real story starts with a hot cup of coffee.
But before we get to that, let me tell you this. One of the things that I have always loved about my church is that you don’t always know what to expect when you are there. I mean, yes, the service is structured and you can expect to get out, more or less, at the same time each week. But, sometimes - sometimes - you may get a surprise, a little something extra to disrupt your day. Which is exactly what happened well over a decade ago when, “Surprise”, each member of the congregation was given a five dollar bill, a card that simply read - ‘Jesus Loves You - No Strings Attached’, and the challenge to buy something for a random person and give them the card. In other words, as I left church that day, I was surprised with my worst nightmare.
I am not all that outgoing. I love people, but unlike my husband, who we affectionally refer to as ‘The Stranger Talker’, I do not like to strike up lengthy conversations with people that I just happen to meet on the street. I prefer to stick to those I know and I thrive in small group settings. On top of this, I was raised that it was not polite to discuss religion (or politics) with people outside your family (or inside your family if you weren’t already in total agreement.) So, to combine these things - bringing up faith with someone you don’t know when they aren’t expecting it felt - well it felt really uncomfortable.
And yet, as I left church that day with the money and the card burning a hole in my pocket, I had an equally uncomfortable feeling - that I should do it anyway.
I was conflicted. On one hand, all I had to do to stay in my comfort zone was throw the money and the card in a drawer and tell myself that “someday” I would get to it. On the other hand, I could step out of my comfort zone and actually buy something and give it to someone with the card. For some of you extroverts out there, this may not sound like a very hard choice. But for me, it was agonizing.
You see, I wanted to grow as a person, but I didn’t want to be uncomfortable in order to grow. I wanted to keep on doing all the things that I had always been doing and grow anyway. Unfortunately, growth doesn’t work that way. And so, I made a decision that would ultimately change the course of my life. I went to Starbucks.
There, I pulled out the crisp, five dollar bill and exchanged it for a large coffee with cream and sugar. After much overthinking, I had decided to accept the challenge and give the coffee and card away, but with one caveat. I would not find a stranger, but instead give it to someone I already knew. So, with coffee in hand, I drove home and spotted my neighbor. We had chatted earlier and I knew she had been having a tough week. When I pulled back in the neighborhood, she was exactly where I had/hadn’t hoped she would be, standing with her son in their yard. I parked my car, willed my feet to move forward, and trudged towards her.
If you were wondering what I had been so afraid of, it was that if I attempted this challenge, I might somehow manage to make it awkward. Thankfully, I never make things awkward - oh, wait, that’s not right. But the good news here is, I didn’t make it awkward. I made it REALLY awkward instead. In fact, the whole thing went down something like this:
I stood in front of my neighbor with the coffee she didn’t order thrust out towards her face and stammered. “Umm, I got you this coffee because my church is doing this weird thing and you know they challenged us to do something nice for someone to remind them that Jesus loves them and um.. I thought of you.. and…” She stared at me in total surprise, and I secretly wished for the sidewalk to open up and swallow me whole. But then something happened.
My neighbor, the one who wasn’t expecting to be awkwardly approached with faith and coffee on a random weekday afternoon, broke out into the hugest grin. “This makes my day.” She said. Then she gave me a big, joyful hug. And it was then, at that moment, that my future changed, because suddenly, I didn’t want to be comfortable anymore.
And that first time that I decided to embrace discomfort, coffee in hand, led me to the next uncomfortable choice, and the next, and the next. Until, before I knew it, all of the discomforts in my life, both good and bad, had grown me into a person who had stopped being so afraid. And that changed everything. And so, when I was recently asked, “How did you end up leading a ministry?” I knew that the real answer was this - I decided to stop being comfortable.
So now I will ask you. Is there anything in your life that you really do/don’t want to do?
How could your life change if you stopped being so comfortable too?
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9