Whenever my sister goes out of town and needs someone to dog-sit, her fur-son Ralphie comes to stay with me and my parents.
It’s a win-win all around: For my sister, peace of mind. For us, Ralphie time. For Ralphie, the chance to explore our big backyard and play with his uncle Linus.
Everyone in our house accepts him. Everyone is content.
Everyone, that is, except Evangeline.
Befriending our quirky, sensitive half-Siamese takes some delicacy at the best of times (though once she trusts you, she loves boundlessly). And delicacy isn’t something small dogs like Ralphie are known for.
Needless to say, their first meeting didn’t go so well.
For a long time afterward, whenever Ralphie appeared at our home, Evangeline would retreat to the laundry room – the only dog-free zone in the house – and stay there for the duration of his visit, only slinking out for an occasional change of scenery in the dark, curtained shower or behind the couch.
Recently, though, there’s been a change. One day, when Ralphie was outside, I heard a thump beside me on my desk. Next moment, Evangeline was purring between me and my work, on high alert but eager for attention. She vanished as soon as my mom went to the back door to let the dogs in, but it was clear she was feeling braver than before.
It seemed she’d decided that living in a bunker, waiting for her enemy to disappear, wasn’t the life for her. She still wasn’t about to pick a fight with him, but she was done skulking.
She was going to take chances. She was going to live.
I sometimes see myself in Evangeline. How often do I respond to new difficulties by putting joy on hold until they’ve passed? How often do I live like all my problems have to be solved before I can try new things or move forward with my current mission?
Maybe you’ve felt the same. Maybe you’re facing a problem, old or new, that has you frozen in your tracks or pacing in your bunker. Maybe you’ve tried giving it (or yourself) time, but found yourself growing stagnant. Or maybe, as overwhelmed as you feel at the thought of moving forward, waiting it out simply isn’t an option.
But how do we get moving? How do we live – really live – in the face of our nemeses?
Here are some thoughts.
Visit your comfort zone, but don’t live there
We love our comfort zones. They are, after all, the places we feel safe and at ease. And using them for respite and healing, or as distraction-free spaces to reflect and plan, is certainly helpful.
But spending all our time there restricts our growth and potential. Comfort zones are by nature small, bounded spaces. If we want to expand our strength, resilience, and perspective, we’ll need to regularly push those boundaries and leave comfort behind – whether for a few minutes or a few weeks, by a few steps or by a thousand miles.
Then, when we return to recharge and regroup, we may actually find that they’ve grown, too – and our need for them has shrunk.
Evangeline initially only left the laundry room for another hiding place, never lingering for attention on the way. Then she started venturing into the open to hang out with us while Ralphie was outside. Now she’ll come out as long he’s in another room. With each successful venture, she becomes bolder, even a little audacious.
The laundry room is still her “safest place”. But she’s discovered through her ventures that she can still have good times elsewhere.
Choose and use opportunities wisely
That said, she chooses her ventures wisely – and so should we.
If Evangeline were to sashay into the kitchen while Ralphie was eating or playing, she’d likely be rewarded with a skirmish ending in a dash for her bunker.
Instead, she listens for her enemy’s movements, waits until he’s out of the area, sticks to high places or close by her humans, and retreats as soon as she detects his approach.
Sometimes, meeting our problems head-on is simply too dangerous or beyond our ability to handle. In such cases, we should thoughtfully and prayerfully consider our options and act accordingly. We can still live victoriously and meaningfully while also behaving wisely.
This might look like using proper safety equipment when trying a high-risk activity, or budgeting when planning a big investment. It might look like training for a 5k in gradually harder sessions over the course of weeks, or tackling a particular fear slowly, with the help of a counselor. In the era of COVID-19, it might look like wearing a mask, socially distancing, and washing our hands often.
Sometimes, it looks like saying no to a challenge altogether, instead channeling our resources in another direction.
In all situations, it looks like doing our research, assessing our resources, seeking wise counsel, praying, studying God’s Word – and then choosing the option that best allows us to honor God with what He’s given us.
Remember: Being brave doesn’t mean being stupid. Victory doesn’t mean instant success. And walking away isn’t always a sign of weakness.
As long as we keep walking – or crawling, stumbling, dragging, groping, etc. – toward your ultimate goal, we’re making progress. We’re winning!
Stay focused on your mission
Evangeline’s mission in life is to live happily amongst her fur-siblings and to love and be loved by her humans.
She cannot do this by holing up in the laundry room. Sure, my parents step in a few times a day, as does our other (more amiable) cat, Olivia. She has all her physical needs met there; my mom even moves her favorite cat bed in there during Ralphie’s visits.
But that’s not where her family’s life happens. It’s only a sliver of the house, a sliver of our lives. To fulfill her mission, she needs to be moving around her home and amongst her family members.
And I think she knows it. I think her desire to be in her house with her people is what finally beat her fear and sent her slinking out of that laundry room on that first adventure as soon as the coast was clear – even though she knew it would only be clear for a little while, that her nemesis was still at large.
And I think it’s our own mission that will do the same for us. If we set our minds and hearts fully on doing God’s will for our lives, and let His Spirit empower us, I think we’ll have the courage and sound-mindedness to brave anything that threatens us.
So when hardships, problems, or fears loom, remind yourself of your God-given mission to love Him and others. Ask Him to guide your next steps and to give you what you need to take them. Then let His love and strength carry you along as you rest in His promise to fulfill His purpose for your life no matter what tries to thwart it.
He is working everything out for good according to His perfect will (Romans 8:28). Even your nemesis.
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.2 Timothy 1:7 (CSB)