Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Growth

Growing up is a funny thing. I remember my mom lecturing me as a teenager when I would complain "life is hard". "Compared to what?" she'd ask. Then there was "your brother will grow out of this need to torture you" or my personal favorite, "you'll understand when you're older".

(My brothers and I are close now, but we hated each other when we were kids. "Hate" is a pretty strong word, I guess, but it is an accurate description of my feelings at the time, though God knows I didn't really mean it.)

Growing up into adulthood isn't all that different from growing spiritually. You go into it all giddy, thinking you are prepared for it. (i.e. ooo! my first credit card!) Then when when it "growing" and "stretching" happens, you start squirm a little, wishing things were the way they used to be. (you mean I have to pay this bill?) And ultimately, we can look back and see the lesson learned, why it happened, and how we are better for it.

But here's the thing I've wondered about spiritual growth: how can we be sure we've grown or if maybe we've just gotten more intelligent about spiritual things? I can read book and after book, consult scripture, spend time in prayer and ultimately come out thinking "I'm good. I know what I'm talking about". I can put a name on my struggle, I can maybe even find the root of it, and then once again be at the foot of the cross asking for forgiveness. Then I just can't help but ask myself, "Have I really grown? I'm right back where I started."

My friend Landon recently said "I've always found the naming to be the most powerful piece of growth for me. Once I name it, it has no control over me. Now that I've named that a piece of me is scared, I'm no longer subconsciously controlled by that." I've never been able to articulate that about myself, but I find it's absolutely true for me as well... just as there is power in finding the root or reason for the struggle, there is power in looking back and seeing a lesson learned. But if it happens again and again, do I just "know" more about the struggle and more about myself?

Sometimes it feels as though I am cloaking my so-called growth in knowledge, that I am masking it all with "the smarts". (This is feeling very Romans 7-like to me.)

Something to think about, anyway.

6 comments:

ptg said...

Interesting. Before the Al Gore invented the internet, I used to hang out at libraries. I noted that many of the other "information addicts" I saw there were lacking in common sense, basic wisdom and faith in God.

The 'smarts' aren't a substitute for faith, but the human skull is capable of containing both.

Landon Whitsitt said...

I feel a little pretentious commenting on a post I'm quoted in, but here goes...

A friend of mine just came to our church to speak of Centering Prayer. CP is a form of contemplative praying that has as it's heart, saying "yes" to God - like Mary said "yes" to bearing God's son, and like Mary of Bethany said "yes" and just sat at Jesus feet while Martha was banging pots and pans.

My friend told us that one of the effects of CP (or any contemplative practice) is that the Divine Light within you will begin to grow and you will become more and more aware of your sinfulness. But that light and awareness is not like the cop on the side of the road, shining a flashlight in your face, asking for your ID and proof of insurance, threatening to haul you in for wrong-doing. Rather, the light is like a loving mother who stands at the door of a very messy child's room and says, "Look at this mess. Come on - let's clean it up together."

Cognitive knowledge always precedes growth. You have to know where you're going before you can go there. The question to ask is: Is my "growth" feeding my ego, or transforming me into someone more like John the Baptizer ("less of me, more of him")? Is my "growth" allowing my to keep on practicing exclusivity, fragmentation, and simplistic thinking/doing or is it pushing me to inclusivity, wholeness, and complexity?

stephanie said...

"let's clean this up together" I like that.

I think being able to share my knowledge, whether it's book knowledge or knowledge by experience, is something I enjoy. Just tonight I spent time with a friend who recently went to a pentecostal church and saw "slaying in the spirit" and "holy laughter" for the first time and it freaked him out. (Poor guy's a baptist... he didn't know what hit him.) It was nice to share my own experiences with him, explaining what it was, that it isn't mentioned in scripture, than some churches misuse it, etc, etc. And telling him what I know scripture has to say about gifts like speaking in tongues and such - just felt nice. To help someone understand the ins and outs of spirituality, to teach scripture... it just feels right to me.

I fear that if the same kind of questions came up with someone I didn't know as well as him, it would feed my ego. But he's the kind of friend that grounds me, so I'm lucky in that respect. I also find the type of growth and experience makes in difference in whether I get caught up in that sneaky "it's more about me" mentality. I wonder why that is.

More contemplating to come...

stephanie said...

Landon - good question, btw. I shall ponder on that for a while.

Landon Whitsitt said...

I like your ponderings thus far...

Rereading our convo made me want to make something clear: Go with the "it just feels right" stuff. That's a good sense to have.

Ego and calling are two different things. Sometimes they are separated by a very thin line, but they are two things nonetheless.

stephanie said...

Good point