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Life Notes

How Did I Miss That?

Part 27: Growth is not Chronological

 But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 2 Peter 3:8

Beginning at birth, our bodies go through a mostly predictable cycle of growth, maturation, decline, and death. We see it in others, and most of us witness it firsthand in ourselves. Through our school years, we steadily advance in our academic achievements as we graduate from grade to grade. As such, it is only natural to expect our growth as spiritual beings to follow a similar, predictable pattern; but it does not. Our experience of time is very different from that of God. In other words, time is not always as it seems. Our human evolution seemingly progresses in a predictable way from past to present to future. God creates, and that creation – including our lives – manifests in ways that we can only experience gradually over time. That is not necessarily the core reality, however.

Because our spiritual growth – our increasing awareness of God with us – occurs outside of earth-time, our spiritual development appears to occur in fits and starts. We go through long periods where it seems nothing is changing. In fact, we go through periods where it seems we are falling back and losing what we once believed we had attained. Then something happens and we hardly recognize the person we were a short time earlier. Our spiritual growth is commonly experienced as three steps forward and two steps back.

Often painfully, the times we move forward in a spiritual way are the times that force us to reevaluate our understanding of the world. The single event that most contributed to my spiritual development was the sudden death of my father when I was a youth. Decades later, that experience continues to realign my understandings and priorities. For others it may be a serious accident or illness, a divorce, or the severe misfortune of someone close to them that drives their former certainties into a state of utter inadequacy. Athletic trainers tell us, “No pain, no gain” in physical development. The same is often true in our spiritual growth. We grow too fond of the status quo when life is too comfortable. God created our world, including us, to evolve. When we are not changing, we are not growing. Sometimes, we need a nudge to move; other times, we need a swift kick in the back side.

We know our experience of chronological time is variable at best. When we are absorbed in a task we enjoy, time flies by. When we are burdened with a dreadful job, however, the clock hardly seems to move. In childhood, time moved at a crawl. As we age, the days in a month and months in a year seem fewer and fewer. Author Gretchen Rubin said, “The days are long, but the years are short.” Truly, even time is not the stable foundation we assume.

Our growth as human and spiritual beings does not correspond to our calendar because spiritual and physical times do not always correspond. Why does this matter? It matters because we are often too hard on others and on ourselves based on appearances on any given day. God’s creation, including us, is good. From our perspective, we are always a work in progress. From God’s perspective, we are the image of God; and in God’s present, we are very good! We simply do not have eyes to see it (yet). That knowledge can and will transform our world.

Meaningful growth is not chronological. How did I miss that?

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Life Notes

How Did I Miss That?

Part 15: Brokenness Leads to Wholeness

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:17

The egg shell must be broken at the right time for the chick to emerge. The caterpillar must be broken and bound for the butterfly to emerge. The skin of reptiles must split open for them to grow into their next stage of life. And, painful as it often is, our current state of life must be broken in order for us to move to the next stage of our development. Life is a series of deaths and rebirths, and being broken is at the heart of the process. I do not enjoy it, but I can either be broken willingly, or I can fight it tooth and nail, but broken I will be.

The central problem is that a full and satisfied heart has no motivation to change. When we are satisfied, we fight to maintain the status quo. We do whatever we can to minimize change, even when a change is necessary to improve the lot of our self and others. In political contests, one candidate is often portrayed as the “change” agent and the other as the “establishment.” The former makes the case that the political system is broken and needs to be rebuilt (or reborn). The latter claims the current system is good enough to provide a solid foundation from which to improve. In many cases, who we favor depends on the level of brokenness of our current state in life. While I do not advocate change for the sake of change, brokenness, in its time, is necessary for the sake of growth.

I am not advocating that we break a perfectly good life – destruction is a process that happens naturally enough, with or without our prodding. When we feel the status quo of our life starting to bend, however, it may be time to embrace a change. It may be the Spirit moving in our lives in a way that will lead us to a new level of wholeness. Sometimes, that may mean breaking away from negative influences by ending a toxic relationship, leaving a disrespectful employer, or receiving help for an addiction. Other times, we need to break away from our own inertia by intentionally committing ourselves to a new relationship, forming new, healthier habits, or beginning a regular prayer or meditation practice.

Sometimes we have already been broken, but we do not yet recognize the possibilities. We, like Humpty Dumpty, have fallen off the wall, and we expend energy and resources trying to rebuild what once was instead of taking stock of what is now. Being broken opens a new world of possibilities for us, but we will never see the possible until we willingly let go of the shattered past. An old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Realistically, there are times when we do need to break something in order to move ahead in life.

Brokenness leads to wholeness. How did I miss that?

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Life Notes

Beginning Again

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”  Revelation 21:1, 5a

As an employer, I make certain my employees receive at least one performance evaluation each year. The process rewards a person for things done well, provides coaching in areas that need improvement, and encourages goal setting for the coming year. It is a time for reflection, as well as an opportunity to begin again.

It is common to mark New Year’s Day with resolutions for change. Some people want to lose weight; others decide to exercise more frequently, save more money, spend more time in prayer, mend broken relationships – you name the issue and someone wants to resolve it. For numerous reasons, few New Year’s resolutions actually succeed. First, resolutions are often made with little thought or research into what is required for success. Second, our sights are often set too high too quickly. Finally, having too many resolutions is a sure recipe for failure. Here are a few suggestions:

Research the desired change. Goal setting is a worthwhile endeavor, but goals need to be broken down into pieces that can be accomplished and measured in weekly, even daily or hourly units. For example, if I desire to lose 25 pounds in 2015, I need to research the types and quantities of foods I will and will not eat, the types and frequency of exercise that will be needed, and a reasonable expectation for how much weight I can successfully lose each week. Losing 25 pounds is a lofty goal. Losing 1 pound per week over 6-months sounds much more attainable. Prayerful research and planning is required for serious goals.

Set realistic goals and timelines. Everyone wants positive change, and everyone wants it now. Unfortunately, strategic changes that last seldom occur quickly. Rather, new habits must be consciously practiced over lengthy periods to become ingrained. There is no magic that happens on New Year’s Day that allows change to occur more quickly. 

Focus. If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. There are only so many hours in a day and success in creating positive change requires focused attention over time. The more we dilute our attention among numerous change projects, the less likely we will be to accomplish any of them. One project at a time is a good rule of thumb.

The writer of Revelation, referring to a new heaven and a new earth, writes, “See, I am making all things new.” I believe God will remake us anew; we can be born again and grow into better versions of ourselves. That sort of change, however, requires strategic planning and thoughtful participation on our part. It is easy to forget that God is our all-powerful partner in the change we desire. If we align our desired changes with God’s will and draw on that unfailing source of power, we will succeed.

Come home to church this Sunday. Make it a Happy New Year, not just a day.

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