Where the Magic Happens

diagram of where the magic happens in relation to comfort zone - drawing by Lisa Kelly

I was listening to an audio Spanish lesson when I had a spiritual revelation. The instructor was encouraging students to believe in their ability to speak a foreign language. He noted that people often give up because immersion requires them to go way beyond their comfort zones. The insight he offered, though, was that the “magic” of speaking a new language doesn’t happen far beyond our comfort zone but rather right on the edge of it. If a person continues to push her or his own boundaries, little by little, that magic of fluency takes hold.

I realized that Ignatian spirituality applies that same thinking to the spiritual journey. The experience of God isn’t way out there. The “magic” of spirituality happens when we go to the edge of our comfort zone and admit to ourselves and God the reality we are facing and the desire to experience a life beyond that reality.

I experienced finding the magic happening on the edge of my comfort zone years ago, when my husband and I discerned to live and serve at a Jesuit mission in the Dominican Republic. Going from a suburban Nebraska home and a minivan to a house without drinkable water and frequent days-long power outages was definitely on the edge of my comfort zone. There were fears for health and safety and loneliness from being away from family and friends, but there were also moments of spiritual depth, natural beauty, new relationships, and constant growth.

That experience of pushing myself to the edge of my comfort zone—to the margins—made it possible for me to embrace living and serving in other, more extreme, developing-world settings. Courage begets courage. While such a move may seem impossible to some people, I was only able to expand that edge of my comfort zone after years of pushing myself beyond my comfort zone in the U.S., serving in shelters for people without homes and getting to know people in low-resource areas of my community.

The same holds true to the contemplative side of faith. So often I thought that deep spirituality or connection to the Divine was only possible with years of dedicated prayer, the understanding of a Ph.D. in theology, and mystical practices far beyond my comfort zone. I thought the “magic” of spirituality was way out there, where the saints and the mystics dwelled. Instead, to expand the edge of my comfort zone, I had to name my reality and invite God into it. I had to admit that I wasn’t comfortable with sitting alone in prayer for even 15 minutes. Just finding the time felt uncomfortable. The edge of my comfort zone was to let go of the constant pressure to be doing and to see prayer time not as a box to check but as an allowed reprieve from the pressures of the day. I won’t say it was magic, but I did slowly begin to appreciate a few minutes of reprieve every day. I looked forward to prayer time, planned around it, prioritized it, and let others know I needed it.

Many of the ways that we are called to practice our spirituality as contemplatives in action are on the edge of our comfort zones. Challenging injustice, serving marginalized populations where we don’t fit in, going on silent retreats, opening up to a spiritual director, and even sitting in prayer every day are likely actions on the edge of anyone’s comfort zone the first time one tries. That’s where the magic happens! That’s where we meet God in a new way by inviting the Spirit into those uncomfortable spaces and times. We are called to trust not only that we will get through, but that God will expand that growing edge of our comfort zone until there is no limit to where our faith can take us.

What is the edge of your comfort zone? That is where you are being invited to meet God today.

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Lisa Kelly
Lisa Kelly is a wife, mother, and Ignatian Associate living in Omaha, Nebraska. She works to help organizations integrate spirituality into their planning and systems. She and her husband, Tom, completed the 19th Annotation in 2005, just prior to spending two years living in the Dominican Republic with their three young children, supporting the work of the Jesuit Institute for Latin American Concern. Additionally they have lived in El Salvador and Bolivia for extended periods.


  1. Love this!
    We are called to go to the growing edges, take chances on love, and let Jesus lead.
    Blessings to you, Lisa.


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