Three Paths to Growth
There are three basic ways that we grow, an older wisdom teaches: Catastrophic Event; Spiritual Awakening; Psychotherapy or Spiritual Direction. The first two are thrust upon us and then require some time and effort on our part. The third path to growth is an intentional response to a yearning or sense of emptiness. All three involve hard work. All three reveal that hard work alone only gets us so far.
That catastrophic events would lead to growth continues to be a shocking truth but one that I watch occur on a daily basis. We, and the people we love, suffer huge losses. We may spend the first part of our lives trying to find some magic way of avoiding pain and suffering. There is even a widely accepted application of the Christian gospel promising that increased faith will lead to the elimination of suffering. But that tantalizing message is contrary to the very cross of Christ and our daily experience. Suffering, pain, and loss occur pure and simple. We try to avoid it. We come to accept that it is just part of this life. And the remarkable thing is that it becomes a path for our growth and transformation.
We simply don’t learn much at all when things are going smoothly. I’ve spent my life trying to pile up successes or achievements to impress the world and help me feel some value inside. But only my failures – failures to succeed in something or failures to be able to control outcomes – have led to any sort of understanding. One great gift I have had as a priest is getting to observe others as they suffer loss and go through transformation. That caught my attention early in my ministry as I listened to an alcoholic tell me how grateful he was for his addiction. That sounded insane to me. He had lost two families, several jobs, and huge amounts of money to his addiction. Yet he was thankful. Over the years I’ve come to identify with him. When a catastrophic event pounds me into desperation, I eventually come to admit my powerlessness and then come to see there is something in life bigger than me and bigger than the pain I am going through. That’s what we call faith: accepting our inability to change something and trusting that which is bigger than us to heal us. That trust is anything but automatic or easy. It takes a long time of living without what we think we need. Faith isn’t just the trusting; first it is enduring the time when our needs are not met.
A different way of growing, perhaps easier in some ways but really just as jarring, is spiritual awakening. Seemingly out of nowhere our hearts are softened and warmed. We see little joys that we’ve never seen before. We feel singled out, called and chosen, given a purpose, and excited by a brand new compassion toward all creation including ourselves. It feels great, this spiritual awakening that comes to us as swiftly as a catastrophic event might. We feel warm, safe, and loved for no reason at all. But, if you’ve gone through this kind of awakening, you know that it leads to lots of changes. Suddenly the way you’ve been living your life just isn’t satisfying. You question your priorities, you feel the need to make dramatic changes in daily practices, relationships, and sometimes vocations. Sometimes it leads to a sense of loneliness as you wonder if anyone else in the world thinks the way you do now or feels the way you feel. Faith again is deepened as we accept those times of loneliness or shifts in perspective and live the best we can without all the answers. Spiritual awakenings, while they involve a deep sense of being loved, lead to less and less of a sense of surety about beliefs and doctrines. We know love in a new way and most of what we clung to in our belief system is less important or maybe even offensive.
Psychotherapy and spiritual direction are different in many ways from each other and from the first two paths. What they have in common with each other is the embracing of an intentional practice of inner awareness. Catastrophic events and spiritual awakenings are thrust upon us and then we sort things out over time. Psychotherapy and spiritual direction are intentional practices we take on in response to an inner yearning that has developed over time. Therapy is perhaps more scientific and designed to make specific changes that new health requires. Spiritual direction is more a practice of watching things as they unfold, looking for God in the little things, and devoting ourselves to a daily discipline of contemplation. They both require intentionality, hard work, and the willingness to be more honest with ourselves and another human being than we ever have been before. Everyone perhaps should have either a therapist or a spiritual director. Some of us find that having both is necessary. To be willing to examine every detail of our lives, to appreciate grace as it unfolds generously, and to make little changes in the way we construct our time bears much fruit.
All of these require the embracing of pain. When Jesus says he is the way, the truth, and the life, he is referring to the pain and suffering of the cross. One person may never have heard of Jesus of Nazareth but learn to accept pain as it leads to new growth – that person knows the way, the truth, and the life. A lifelong Christian may know all about Jesus but devote their life to avoiding pain – that person does not know the way, the truth, and the life.
Growth and transformation are the way of God. Life is designed to invite us continually to embrace this way of God. Just be open to it. God will take care of the rest. Christ models it. Christ offers it to us.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Special Events Around the Corner
Jamie Osborne shares his call story – August 13 at 9:15
Blessing of Backpacks – August 13 at 10:30
EYC Parents’ Meeting – August 20 at noon
Young Adults’ Supper Club – August 24 at 6:30 pm
Family Promise Speaker – August 27 at 9:15 am
Fall Kickoff Sunday – September 10
Men’s Group Starts – September 11 at 6:15 pm
Organ Recital by Joel Gregory – September 14 at 7:00 pm
Family Promise – Homeless Family Ministry – September 17-24
Blessing of the Animals – October 1 at 5:00 pm
Evensong – October 15 at 4:00 pm
Halloween Carnival – October 25 at 6:00 pm
Bazaar – November 15
Ordination to the Priesthood for Jamie Osborne – November 18 at 11:00 am
Stop Hunger Now – November 26 – need 100 volunteers!
Handel’s Messiah – December 8 at 7:00 pm