Growing into Who We will be
“We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it. The process is not yet finished, but it is going on. This is not the end, but it is the road.” Martin Luther
At age twenty-five I was a talented professional photographer with the emotional EKG of a cadaver. While I thought nothing of cycling down the west coast alone or sleeping under highway overpasses (on assignment, of course), the idea of acknowledging my needs and wounds to others terrified me. Though I had been following Jesus for six years, my faith had little impact upon my relational brokenness.
Fast forward a decade. Just four years into our marriage, Andrew asked Christopher and me to consider running Living Waters. In an effort to understand the program, I began reading the manual. A single sentence, in chapter two, no less, dismantled me: “Is the appearance of health worth more than health itself?” Life as I knew it was about to change.
Up until that point I had opted for the appearance of health. Living Waters offered a paradigm shift. As the weeks of our pilot program rolled by, I began to understand that if I wanted to be like Jesus, I had to forsake others’ opinions of me and stop faking it. Despite my initial resistance, I learned how to confess my sins and invite others into my struggles, in real time. Confession toppled my wall of shame, allowing me to connect more intimately with God and others. Barriers continued to fall as I endeavored to obey the Lord’s directives.
Obedience has fallen out of favor in our postmodern culture. Society perceives it as a rigid and arbitrary limitation. I see it from a different vantage point. From the time I was six until I graduated from college, I played competitive sports. This meant running, weight lifting, cycling, and shooting thousands of free throws all year long. Practice, or obedience, prepared me for the demands of the season. Though I no longer engage in competitive athletics, this same discipline now serves me as I follow Jesus Christ.
Paul writes, “You were taught, in regards to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:22-24). Just as having a perfect free throw doesn’t happen by osmosis, neither does “being made new.” Sloughing off our dragon skin (see Eustace in Voyage of the Dawn Treader) happens in partnership with God, over years, through repeated and often seemingly insignificant acts of obedience.
One of my life goals is to love my husband well. Despite the reality that he is an amazing and godly man, I sometimes struggle to pull this off. A few years ago, he was in a difficult space. I extended grace and mercy for three or four days but then grew impatient and cross. I wanted him to snap out of it. In prayer, I sensed a clear directive from the Lord to initiate intimacy with him. I resisted—not because our sex life was unsatisfying but because I knew that I would have to trust God to resource me. My choice to obey and extend His supernatural love broke through Christopher’s shame and self-hatred.
Though we don’t always realize it, a gap exists between our anxiety/fear/anger/longing/grief and our response to it. God gives us the opportunity to become more disciplined in that space. Will we act out when in pain or reveal our temptations to a friend and resist? Will we lash out at our children when we had a bad day at work or stop at the local parish, confess and receive prayer? As we repeatedly choose the way of the cross, the pull of sin diminishes and Christ strengthens our resolve. Hope undergirds this obedience—hope that Christ’s resurrection power is truly available to us. Hope that growth is more than a concept. Hope of things not yet realized.
Though spring has officially arrived in New England, the ground remains covered with snow and ice. Apart from the phoebe’s song, I see no physical evidence that winter will depart. No green tips have pierced through the hardened soil despite the fact that five months ago I dug multiple holes and dropped shriveled, ugly bulbs into the damp earth. I remember the first time one of my sons watched me do this he asked incredulously, “What are you doing?” He wondered if any good could come of this seemingly futile exercise.
This has been an extremely challenging decade for those of us who believe that holiness matters. The cultural tectonic plates are rapidly shifting beneath our feet, rearranging boundary lines and muddying the bride’s gown in the process. I have asked myself more than once, “God, what am I doing? Is all of my digging and planting, praying and obeying for naught?”
Again, the Holy Spirit reminds me of the gap between my feelings and my response. Will I choose despair and instantly be caught in an avalanche of self-pity and sin? Or will I choose holy expectancy? The former option asks very little of me other than that I acquiesce and slide. The latter requires resolve, intentionality and engagement. I can only choose the more demanding option by remembering God’s faithfulness.
Spring did arrive last year, and in all the previous years that I can recall. In my own life—though I am still broken, I am not who I was at age twenty-five—God has miraculously transformed my shriveled bulb of a heart into something beautiful. Because I have already experienced His goodness, I will wait in holy expectancy, confident that God will do what He has promised—redeem us and His church.