Pains of Spiritual Growth | The Practical Disciple

Pains of Spiritual Growth

My apologies to anyone stopping by and finding minimal posts. A couple of weeks ago I tried to learn how to use a circus balance board and took a dive and hurt my arm. Typing has been do-able but uncomfortable to painful, so I have avoided the keyboard (and the balance board). Speaking of aches and pains, I have a pet peave about many spiritual growth programs and books, particularly the ones that are effective. Now that may sound odd, but here is my peave. Few spiritual growth books warn you that there is a stage of growth that can be painful, particularly if you go through rapid profound growth quickly.

I was reminded of this recently when I spent a week of training boy scouts in wilderness observation and survival skills. Inevitably when I do this, people find themselves going through some very uncomfortable stages filled with mixed emotion. A typically learning cycle whether it be of nature, prayer, bible study or evening learning a skill, begins with inspiration, moves onto a period of curiosity and exploration. Then a person enters into a time of focused work. In animal tracking we call it dirt time. In learning a musical instrument this might be when you start learning scales, going to lessons, absorbing theory, and spending hours practicing. In something like prayer, the focus work time might be joining a prayer group, taking on a daily devotional practice, or keeping a prayer journal.

After a period of focused work people sometimes can go through a phase of confidence even arrogance. They learn just enough to think they know a whole lot. They know the jargon of the discipline. They have had some experiences they can share. They probably know the authorities of their area of study and they have all the books and paraphenalia associated with what they are learning. We all know though that pride proceeds a fall.

There comes a point in your learning curve where you learn enough to realize that you really know very little. In fact, you may start to question every thing you have learned. You may go through a period of extreme confusion and even begin to isolate yourself. You have a sense that no one really understands what you have seen and experienced. This is the uncomfortable and disorienting phase of growth that I find few materials prepare us for.

I mentored a friend in prayer over a couple of year period. I distinctly remember when he hit this phase of growth. He had gone from being skeptical of prayer to avidly investing himself in prayer. Then something shifted. He wondered how he had grown up in the church and never been taught these lessons of the spirit. He felt like so many people just really didn’t get “it.” The church in many ways seemed like a shallow misguided bunch of folks. He seriously considered switching denominations. He was filled with anger.

The desire to change jobs, spouse, mentors, and/or locations is not unusual. I was talking to a pastor once about this phase of spiritual growth and she said, “Oh my gosh, I had someone come in my office this week going through this very thing.” Her parishioner had become involved in a rather indepth Bible study. The woman had never studied the Bible before. The study shook up her understanding of not only the Bible but of God as well. She was in an anxious place of confusion. She was coming to a greater understanding of truth which was great. However, the shift left her questioning everything that had been normative, so she felt very lost. She actually thought she was going crazy. I asked my friend, “So is she getting divorced, quitting her job or moving.” She said, “She is getting a divorce.”

Now that may sound crazy. How would Bible study and a greater understanding of truth lead her to wanting her to quit her marriage? It wasn’t that the study had lead her to leave. Instead, when someone goes through radical transformative change that hasn’t been fully integrated into his or her life, he or she feels the discomfort of the war going on inside of them and they look for an external fix. I call this “if-only-itis.” A person rationalizes thinking, “I would feel better if only I had…a better job…a better spouse…a better place to live…a better church…etc.” Ironically but not surprisingly, if they change a job or spouse, they find themselves 6 months later saying, “This job/spouse is just like the last one.” Duh, the job or the spouse wasn’t the problem.

A number of other symptoms can be experienced at stage of growth. Symptoms such as, plunging into addictive behaviors, isolating, become to stagnant to manage normal affairs of life, and more. It can lead to depression or someone completely stepping away from what they were learning. During this phase of growth some pain is probably unavoidable as you seek to integrate what you have been and have known with your new experiences. Suffering is optional and mostly avoidable, but not if you aren’t aware that what you are going through are very normative growing pains.

That’s enough for now. A friend of mine calls this phase of growth hitting your walls of grief. It is a time of integration. There are tools that we can use to help with that integration, but that’s whole ‘nother conversation.

This may seem like a big leap from purpose, priorities and principles, but I haven’t forgotten about those things. Truth be told, if you head down a path of pursuing purpose, growth and change will be inevitable. You will find hitting these walls soon enough. I’ll revisit the three p’s soon and how we integrate change. They are lessons well worth learning together.

Peace to you from The Practical Disciple

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