My shoulder "exploded." My rotator cuff decided to pay me back for the hundreds of times I've run through airports around the world with luggage on my shoulders.
The surgeon said it was "totally ripped." At first, I thought he said I was totally ripped, and I was thrilled. But then I remember what I see in the mirror each morning. Back to brutal reality.
So the surgeon replaced the "ripped" factory equipment with a new shoulder. Then on to physical therapy to begin the long climb to strength and flexibility.
Because I couldn't reach my wallet to pay the doctor. I couldn't reach the Coke the guy at the fast food drive-through tried to hand me. If an officer happened to stop me, there was no way I could put "hands up."
The folks at physical therapy started me with simple exercises - that weren't simple at the beginning. Shoulder shrugs. Pendulum swings. Five minutes with pulleys anchored to the door.
After a while, what started hard got easy. The therapy guy wasn't about to let me stay there. He pushed me to stretches and weights that forced me well beyond where I was comfortable. But as I was hurting, I was healing.
That's how strengthening and healing work. Pushing beyond comfortable, stretching to where it hurts.
Not just in physical therapy. But in becoming all God called and created us to be.
On the days when the exercises have been hard, I've been tempted to revert to the ones that didn't demand much. But if you stay in your comfort zone, you'll never grow. You'll never heal. You'll never get stronger. You'll never be capable of more.
God rocks our boat to get us out of our comfort zone and into His construction zone where He can build us. And into the combat zone where we can make a greater difference.
But we humans instinctively become addicted to what's comfortable. Especially spiritually. We get to a certain point in our relationship with Jesus – and settle there. Never digging deeper, never taking new ground. Never accepting an assignment or responsibility that would take us beyond where we're comfy. Storing up tons of blessing while sitting in the stands rather than getting in the game.
The Old Testament tells the story of some courageous Jews who went to battle against an army that invaded with 900 iron chariots. Some of the tribes of Israel fought. Some copped out for comfort.
The leader who summoned Israel to fight rather than surrender praised those who "rushed into the valley" where the battle was. Who "risked their very lives."
But that same leader roasted those who, in the face of a do-or-die situation, "stayed among the campfires" and remained "on the coast and stayed in their coves" (Judges 5:15-18).
That's not just ancient history. It's a picture of God's people today. We are living in a world and a time like no other. Where every believer is needed in the battle for lost hearts. Where people are spiritually lost. Some are physically starving. Some are horrifically exploited. The work of God is tragically understaffed.
Because while some are taking up their cross, others are filling up their couch. I'm convinced that those who insist on staying in their comfort zone will almost surely miss the will of God.
Like a good coach, God is constantly calling us beyond comfort to where it's challenging, where it's hard, where it's risky. Because that's where we desperately need Him. And that's the sweetest spot in this Jesus-following life.
God wants to heal our wounds, strengthen our spiritual muscles, help us be what He rescued us to be. But that won't happen in the warm, cozy nest. It will happen as we get out of the nest and try to fly.
Strength comes from stretching. A shoulder or a soul.