Have you ever noticed how your greatest moments of personal growth occur?
There’s a pattern to it, I’m convinced.
First, a challenge. A challenging life circumstance or situation. Something comes at us sideways when we least expect it. A loss. Break up. Health problem. We don’t feel equipped to handle it, yet somehow we do. We’re faced with an obstacle and we pull through.
But we haven’t grown yet.
Next comes vulnerability. We share our experience of this challenge with another person. In all of our raw honesty, we open ourself up to another. We share in our weaknesses and by doing so, we experience vulnerability.
Then we reflect. Only after a difficult challenge and shared vulnerability, can we pause to really reflect about what exactly we’ve just been through. What we’ve grown through. How we’ve grown. And in our reflection, finally, our great moment of personal growth arrives. Clothed in compassion and humility. Void of all judgment. An “Aha” moment.
Challenge. Vulnerability. Reflection. In that order.
I believe that all of our greatest personal growth experiences follow this pattern.
The crisp, sweet smell of fall reminds me of this time a couple years ago; a uniquely sweet period of healing in my life. I am reminded that stillness, presence, and grace are all powerful tools of healing that we should routinely practice, even (and especially) if we think we don’t need to.
In his youth, Benjamin Franklin received a letter from one of his friends rebuking his opinionated nature. The letter is included here because I believe we can all learn from it.
“Ben, you are impossible. Your opinions have a slap in them for everyone who differs with you. They have become so offensive that nobody cares for them. Your friends find they enjoy themselves better when you are not around. You know so much that no man can tell you anything. Indeed, no man is going to try, for the effort would lead only to discomfort and hard work. So you are not likely ever to know any more than you do now, which is very little.”
What a great friend this man was! He told the truth. And Ben listened…and went on to become one of the greatest Diplomats in American history.
What can we learn from this letter?
Often, it is best to choose being nice, over being right. Forcing your opinion down another person’s throat never works. And know it alls tend to lose it all before they know it.
How you see yourself, determines how you live.
First engage with the world and then retreat from it. The devil wants you to believe in urgency, the lie that you can’t do both. The truth is, you can balance both engagement and retreat.
We are all creatures of habit. For those of us who are in the habit of constantly keeping busy, the problem is making the time to retreat and reflect… Or conversely, for the more introverted types, the problem can be getting out of your retreat stage and starting to engage with the world again. The devil wants you stuck. But God sets you free, allowing the possibility of a healthy flow between the two.
Plenty of us pray regularly. We submit our requests to God and thank Him for our blessings. But how many of us really take the time to listen to what God has to say back? This takes practice and as aforementioned, time (something of which most of us believe we don’t have enough).
We spend our days engaging with the world, fulfilling our duties, and crossing items off our checklist. But we do ourselves a grave disservice when we don’t make the time to listen to God. We grossly underestimate the negative impact this can have on our lives. In what other relationship would we ask a person for something and then run off without hearing his/her answer? Remember, God became a Person for this very reason- so we, his beloved people, could communicate with Him! Communication is a two way street. And He loves talking to us just as much as He loves hearing from us. Don’t give God the short end of the stick.
Hard to believe today marks a year. A year of pain, longing and questions but also a year of healing, growth and indescribable grace. I question whether we can fully comprehend the sweetness of life without first experiencing its bitterness. Today, as I miss my best friend like always, all I can think is what an incredibly sweet gift it was to do life with him. I treasure every memory.