It was some years ago, but I remember it as if it happened yesterday.

He “instant messaged” me while I was on a trip, catching up on some e-mail, saying he wanted to talk to me, NOW! I got offline, prayed and called him.

Are your thriving or surviving in your current role?

It caught me by surprise. I thought he was doing okay. He enjoyed his job, seemed to be doing well in his family relationships and spiritually was experiencing joy and intimacy with the Savior. When he told me over the phone that he was under psychological care and was in the midst of an emotional and physical meltdown, I was stunned. I felt like Job’s friends in the beginning, not knowing what to say, how to react.

He’s multi-gifted and a leader of great capacity and energy. “How did it happen,” I asked. “You seemed to be doing great?” There were two or three contributing factors, but the one that caught my attention was one I had seen before in other leaders with whom I’ve been involved. My friend told me he had accepted responsibility for things that were beyond his personal design, gifting and passion. In the process of saying yes to these things, he was moving away from the things that were an expression of who he really was. He had slowly been exchanging “definitely me” for “not me” in some major areas of his responsibilities.

My mind started in with the questions. Why did he allow this to happen? Did he know it was happening? Could it have been avoided? Why would he knowingly do this? Was it because of guilt, loyalty, fear, money, peer pressure, or desire to keep everyone happy? He is still trying to sort it out for himself. I am sure I will learn much for myself and others as I continue to reflect on his experience. Here is one observation that quickly came to me: We should be open to the challenge of moving out of our “comfort zone,” but careful about moving out of our “gift zone” into the “danger zone.”

Think of a circle within a circle. The inner rim is “my comfort zone” and the outer rim is “my gift zone.” When I move out of my comfort zone, I allow God to stretch me, challenge me, give me experience in believing and trusting him in areas that are new or uncharted. This can be, and should be, exciting and stimulating. But when I move beyond my gift zone, I could very well be violating God’s plan and purpose for me.

This can be draining and conflicting. There is a big difference between saying, “I don’t feel comfortable doing this or that” and saying, “this or that is just not me—it’s in violation of how God has designed me (Psalm 139) and gifted me (1 Corinthians 12).”Now, I know that we need to be careful not to confuse gifts and responsibility. “I don’t have the gift of evangelism” is no excuse for not participating in sensitive and meaningful outreach. Understanding “I don’t have the gift of intercession” is no excuse for not praying for others.

But still, my experience has taught me that when a Christian leader is spending large portions of his or her time in activities that are “not me” by design and gifting, it’s just a matter of time until something gives, resulting in breakdown, burnout, or destructive anger. Within days of that phone conversation, I read 2 Corinthians 10:13 in the New Living Translation. “Our goal is to stay within the boundaries of God’s plan for us, and this plan includes our working there with you. First of all, I need to get a grasp on who I am in Christ and what God’s purpose is for me in light of my design and gifting. Then I would want to make sure I am operating within his boundaries and limits for me, asking for wisdom in what that includes and doesn’t  include.

Where are you in all of this? Are you safe and comfortable? Has the joy disappeared from your work? Are you allowing God to move and stretch you beyond your comfort zone? Have you moved too far and find yourself outside of your gift zone? Are you tired a lot, losing motivation, discouraged, depressed? Could it be that a lot of what you are doing is not a reflection of how God made you? Is it time to make some changes? Talk to some close friends…your boss? What will you do? When will you do it?