Sunday, October 14, 2007

Familarity, and what it breeds

I’m sure you’ve heard it said that “familiarity breeds contempt.” And I must agree with that statement, to a point. It does seem to be true regarding our people relationships; we often feel contempt for the people with whom we are most familiar. Or, not contempt, exactly—perhaps disdain? A tendency toward annoyance? A disturbingly easy trend of fault-finding, nit-picking speech and thought?

Well, contempt for loved ones isn’t good, nor healthy. But that wasn’t what I was thinking about yesterday, as I was driving to look at a small, green, wooden chair that someone was selling on craigslist. (Bought it, love it—thanks, B!) I was thinking, as I drove—in that wondrous, silent refuge that is my car when I’m alone in it—I was thinking that familiarity gets a bad rap.

I was thinking this because I was driving across a bridge that I’d never used until about 7 years ago. When I first had to use that bridge, when it was undeniably the best way to get to a place where I needed to go, I feared the bridge. It was new, I hadn’t traveled it, I hadn’t crossed it and traversed the mysterious places it leads to… it was unfamiliar. And I did not care for it. Then, one brave day, I drove across the bridge, white-knuckled, creeping along in the proper lane, scanning road signs frantically—and I made it to the other side and to my exit. The bridge was, truly, the best route for that particular destination. And then I crossed the bridge again, and again. I even crossed it from the other side. And you know what happened? The bridge became my friend. I grew to like it, to respect it, to understand its purpose the way I could never understand it when I did not know it personally. It wasn’t a perfect bridge, but I appreciated it so much more when I gave it a chance. I was comfortable when crossing the bridge.

There are lots of roads around my town that have the same history with me; I feared them initially, I braved them once or twice, and then they became familiar to me. The roadway I used to fear the most? Now I take it to the zoo whenever I go there; it’s not so bad after all. That road can’t help being dangerous; it wasn’t designed for its current volume of traffic, it can’t be expanded properly—honestly, that road does a fine job considering its humble origins and its physical limitations. It’s a weary road that isn’t what it used to be, and it might have a chip on its “shoulder,” but it works really hard every day; now that I know it, I am comfortable traveling on it.

It seems to me that it would be more accurate—and infinitely more optimistic—to say that familiarity breeds comfort. Lord knows we all could use some enlarging of our comfort zones. That comfort zone can be darned confining at times, especially when you let it dictate whom you meet. The example of a road becoming comfortable is a very broad, vague one; I use it in place of the many stories I could tell of folks whom I feared a bit at first, people who made my heart skip in a worried way, people who turned out to be real blessings. Often, they were the very people I was trying to remain distant from…the people I was avoiding by taking already familiar alternate routes. Not all of these people have blessed me by becoming great friends; some of them have turned out to be burdens of sorts, and truthfully, a handful of them still inspire in me the urge to hide. But by and large, they’ve taught me valuable things; they’ve expanded my comfort zone considerably. I still have a long way to go, but I’m hopeful now that God’s big plan for me will include many more very necessary trips to the outskirts of my comfort zone and beyond.

And when I go there, I’ll be right where He wants me to be.

How about you? Have you strayed from your comfort zone lately? I recommend it.

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