The Pain and Joy of Growing

In my life’s journey some of the most painful moments have led to the greatest personal, and spiritual, growth. And, surprisingly, this growth has brought me the greatest joys and satisfaction in my life.

Of course, most of the time, I have not wanted to grow. It seems so much cozier and safer to just stay the same and never venture out of my corner of life. But, I believe it is God who has spurred me on not to stay in that corner of seeming safety. He has helped me open my eyes and taken steps so that I see things so differently now than I have before. And, there is no going back for me. There is no desire to go back. When I look at the me I was, and compare to the me I am, I have to say I am much prouder of the me that I am. This is the me I have fought for. Who I am now has come from clinging to God in desperation, and letting him take me where he wanted to. I sometimes went kicking and screaming (in fact, most of the time) but I did go. I did stay. When I heard the small voice of God so clearly, I obeyed.

Because of this, I was able to join the Army, survive childhood trauma, recover a broken marriage, care for a damaged child and say goodbye to her without losing myself completely. The more I’ve learned about God, the more I know that he does not desire for any of us to come to the conclusion that we have somehow “arrived.”

We cannot imagine – or be arrogant enough to imagine – that we have God and the Bible all figured out and we are fine, satisfied and happy to skate through the rest of our lives. There are so many times where I’ve looked wistfully at that cozy corner and wished to stay there, but, God is gracious enough not to let me. Because of this holy, loving God, reflected perfectly in the face of Jesus, and expressed to us truly by the Holy Spirit, I have been led to cast off a civil religion that bears mere lip service to God but is far from God in peoples’ hearts. I see now that in the Bible, Jesus, our example, did not teach us to hate our enemies, but he taught us to love them. And, what does love entail? Jesus taught us that too. Loving someone is laying down your life for that person.

I want to follow truth now, and the heart of God. I cannot settle for the cozy, blind corner where I do not see the suffering and hurt that our willful blindness causes. There are people suffering from racism – beaten, killed, imprisoned, made into villains, characterized as being somehow more brutish, less intelligent, not worthy of compassion or equal treatment – and many Christians rest in their privilege and refuse to give it up or even admit it. I’ve been there. Growing is painful because it means admitting we are not perfect. We are not superior. We have been wrong. In America, we are taught that admitting faults is not desirable.

There are people suffering from homophobia and transgender hate. Oh, Christians often claim not to hate — that they don’t hate the “sinners” but they hate the sin. But, these are real people – not issues, not no-name “sinners” that they are branding and labeling and discarding. These are precious children of God – people God loves. These are people who often desire nothing more than to follow God as authentically as possible. But, too many have been driven away, driven to suicide, driven to despair by the very people who are supposed to love them. Love is not scolding, love is not pointing a finger of accusation or closing a door in someone’s face. Love is embracing. Love is inviting to the table. Love is listening and understanding. It is not taking the easy answers and walking away.

The church in our country seems to be full of people who are absolutely convinced they are correct about every issue. They claim that their certainty comes from God and the word of God. But, they quite often ignore the things that are written about most in the Bible — loving and caring for the poor, avoiding bloodshed, welcoming the least of these, forgiveness and humility. The fruit of the spirit is not condemnation of others. It is not pride in one’s own righteousness. It is humility, it is kindness, it is gentleness.

If God wants to challenge us, will we listen? If He wants to show us a better way, will we follow?

If we say we want to grow, then yes. If we are content to stay in our corners, then, I guess not – but then if we ignore the Spirit, can we really say that we are followers of God? My conscience won’t let me take the easy way, even though I want to. I truly pray that in our churches today – many of which are struggling to stay afloat – that we say yes to growth and life – and that we turn our backs on the easy, wide road that leads to death.