A Soft Strength: Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone

Princess. That has been my nickname for as long as I can remember. My sister coined the nickname at some point in our childhood.

Sadly, the princess part really was (and is) somewhat true. I do tend to be soft, enjoying the easier things of life with hobbies of coffee drinking, blog writing, beach sitting and book reading.

It is almost embarrassing to admit that part of myself but I can’t help but acknowledge my more “princess” like qualities. Nor can I help but acknowledge that God created me that way.

He put an innate softness in my soul. He formed me to feel, to sense, to breathe the things happening around me. This softness longs for Hallmark moments rather than Lord of the Rings battles. I love all things peace, joy and rest.

Yet, God had a different life in mind. He was asking me to live and work in one of the harshest environments in the world. I wasn’t sure how the princess qualities would be life skills that God saw as valuable for the vocation of His choosing and I truly questioned His plan.

Almost without my knowing, He began weaving strength, depth and endurance into my heart through marriage to a guy who thrives on hard work, messy tasks and big dreams. I had 3 babies in 3 years. We dealt with sickness, a death in the family, tight finances and many other challenges. And still… I knew that God was working us towards something that would require even more from this soft soul.

Now, after uprooting our family, moving across the sea, diving into a new language, living in a new culture and adjusting to unbelievable circumstances, I’m seeing tiny glimpses of what God can do with a soft soul being willing to harden up for the task ahead.

And when I say harden, I don’t mean a negative hardening of a heart. I mean a positive choice to allow God to form, make and create something of incredible value and abiding endurance. I’m learning how God can weave softness and create beautiful strength.

I was reading the book of Ezekiel recently and I was struck by how much I did NOT like the book of Ezekiel. I read through the whole book and decided it was too sad, too hard and too violent for me. I felt bad for Ezekiel and was happy to finish the book.

But God keeps taking me back. Ezekiel grew up in a priest’s home. He had, what I would imagine as a life of ease, status and prominence. He was 25 years old when he was taken into captivity yet even in captivity, he got married and seemed to be living a pretty good life along the Kebar River. Until one day, he got a crazy vision from God and his whole life was turned upside down.

mountains

At 30 years old, he was called by God to walk an intense path of declaring judgment, seeing horrible visions and performing difficult tasks. His was a job that would fail. God said so. His was not a life to envy or want. His life was not for the soft or faint of heart. Yet, we see something very interesting in the communication between God and Ezekiel.

Ezekiel 3:8-9 says, “But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are. I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint.” My notes for those verses say, “The people would not believe Ezekiel’s message… To enable Ezekiel to face that coming rejection, God promised to give him courage and determination to proclaim God’s prophetic message in all circumstances.”

This has been churning around in my mind as I think about Ezekiel. I wonder if he were a bit soft like me. Then, as God called Ezekiel to something difficult, he needed to go through a process of strengthening and hardening. He needed God to do a sweet work in His heart.

Repeatedly through the book of Ezekiel, after the horrible visions, dire predictions and violent prophecies, the Bible says, “Then the Spirit lifted me up…” Isn’t that a beautiful picture? The Spirit lifted Ezekiel.

And, that is a picture I am living.

God is taking my softness, hardening it in big ways and lovingly lifting me up while He works in my life. He is enabling, preparing, equipping and strengthening me. He is growing me as I take each day in obedient surrender to the process.

Life here in West Africa is tough. It is spiritually, mentally, physically and relationally extremely challenging. Every day I fall into bed at the end of a long day wondering how God could have thought I could do this. Every day I wake deciding to stay, to work, to live, to breathe and to keep saying yes to the hard stuff.

Ezekiel could have said no. I think he could have said, “Uh, God? I kind of like my nice life by the river. I’ve got it pretty good right now.” But for some reason, Ezekiel softly yielded to God and was made unyieldingly strong in the process.

Thankfully, the difficulty of my task is not quite what Ezekiel faced but I can draw hope from his life. I can’t say that I always sweetly or softly yield but I can know that with every difficulty, every mountain, every challenge, God is making me into who I must be to complete the task, to do the hard stuff, to sweat, work and dig deep.

My story is one of the Spirit’s lifting. My heart, still soft, is learning new depths of daily dependence on God for a strength I didn’t know was possible. He promises endurance for the call, help on a journey and grace in a task that can only be done in the power of God.

So while I still find rest and relaxation in a good book and would rather drink coffee than taste sweat, I am learning that with God’s help, I can live both.

I can embrace my softness while running full ahead in the strength my God who lifts, loves, restores and equips. All in choosing to let go, being willing to harden up, embrace growth and say yes to a God who has great big plans for our lives.

I don’t know you. I don’t know your story. But I wonder how many of us feel pulled outside our comfort zones and called to do something outside our abilities?

Let me just encourage you that God is the God of impossibilities and big dreams. He sees a picture of us we could never see ourselves. He created us specifically as we are and has ways to use all of that for His glory as He shapes us in crazy, amazing ways. The Holy Spirit will lift us along the way and help us as we choose obedience in the face of great difficulty.

What ways are you struggling to see how God can use you? How have you been called to do something you never dreamed? Have you ever stepped outside your normal and said yes to something that needs extreme courage and seems way outside your comfort zone? How do you daily choose to say yes?

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  • Jenilee, I love the distinction between “good” hardening and “bad” where one becomes just tough and cynical and self-protective. Thanks for these thoughts!

    • Thanks Amy! I agree… we need that distinction because God is often building, hardening us for the task ahead yet somehow He, if we are willing, allows us to remain soft of heart.

  • Dear Jenilee I am reading this at 5:33am EST. I couldn’t sleep because I kept thinking about how frustrated I was at myself for letting certain things bother me. I’ve always been sensitive to the point I can absorb other people’s feelings. I was praying and wishing I was tougher and even wondering how I would do the things God has called me to do with such a “sensitive heart”. But I know God has also developed a strength in me that comes out when needed and times get rough. I was failing to see the good in caring so much, in feeling so deeply. But your words really encouraged me early this morning. Thank you for writing them. In regards to “princesses”, It’s interesting that the princess in one of the Lord of the Rings films ends up being the only one who can slay the dragon and save her people.( PS To me a princess means being able to wield strength with grace. So perhaps your nickname was prophetic in a way ☺. )

  • FFRO uwilknw?

    Jenilee, thank you for posting this! I find myself feeling lost in my life right now, trying to understand what God is asking of me. Dreams of falling trees, and family in prayer, feeling depressed and alone. However, still waking to see what lays ahead of me each day. I just recently began to reconnect with my family after many years, i companioned with a good friend and she and i work together to help move things along. Still, i feel miserable, alone, walking astray..no matter how much i read the bible…it remains. This is one of few entries that reached me…Thank you…

    • Bronwen Steele

      I just wanted to let you know that I’ve just prayed for you. I know the struggle of walking through one dark day after another, feeling constantly distant but may I encourage you to persevere and never give up. You are special and beloved and seen. xxx