11 Nov 2008

Thorns in the Rose Garden of Spiritual Growth

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Presidential hopefuls have bombarded us for weeks with the word change.  As much as we may want change, when it actually occurs, change is often difficult.  This holds true in our spiritual walk as well.  A mountain top experience, such as a mission trip or renewal weekend often times leads to an experience of frustration and isolation when we come back home and try to go back to life as usual.  Frequently, participants don’t even understand their own discomfort at trying to reenter their old life.
The pain of integrating growth is rather obvious with mountain top

experiences, but it can also creep up on us during a period of long slow growth.  One of the missing pieces in most instruction on spiritual disciplines is a warning label about the growth pains of transformation. I’ll explore this largely unaddressed aspect of spiritual growth over the course of the next few posts.   First, let’s look at what happens and why the rose garden of spiritual growth comes complete with thorns.
Euphoria–The Rose
You are filled with joy and excitement when you first begin to grow or when you experience a mountain top experience.  You are inspired.  You are energized.  You want to share what you are learning, but after people listen politely to your stories for a few minutes, you may suddenly or even painfully realize that their interest is short lived.  As much as you need to talk about your new experience, balance the urge with sensitivity to the fact that people don’t necessarily want you to hose them down with it.  

I am not saying that you shouldn’t be joyful.   Let your rose bloom!  By all means revel in the joy of growing.  Just realize that cramming it down the throat of everyone around you may be counterproductive for both them and you.  It’s counterproductive for them because you unintentionally shove them away.  In turn you wind up feeling isolated and misunderstood. Share in such a way that friends find themselves getting a refreshing drink from a fountain, not force fed with a fire hose.

Shock!–The Thorns
Don’t be surprised if the bitterness of anger, frustration and a sense of alienation prick you in your new found rose garden.  It’s highly likely that you may experience sleeplessness or oversleep and suffer from profuse dreaming.  You may find unresolved emotions or conflicts pleading for your attention.  You may feel disoriented, agitated and wondering, “What’s wrong with me?”  Congratulations!  Your old self with all its ingrained patterns and habits is conflicting with an emerging new self which is more Spirit-led.
Your own thorns are likely to prick other people as well.  I can’t tell you how many spiritually growing people I have counseled who have sat in my office because the members of their church family, “Just don’t get it.”  It is hard during that phase to not become overly critical of the people around you who haven’t changed.
The good news about this angst is that these are normative growing pains.  In spiritual growth pain is unavoidable, but suffering is optional.  Pain is unavoidable because in order to grow you must die to old habits, values, perceptions and attitudes.  Dieing to the flesh is painful.  It requires grieving.  In fact, a friend of mine, Jon Young, fittingly refers to this phase of the learning journey as “hitting the wall of grief.”  You feel very much as if you are up against a wall and you most definitely are grieving.  Grieving though doesn’t have to be a nightmare.  Next post I will address common traps that people fall victim too.  Then I will explore tools to avoid those traps.  
In the meantime, if you have experienced significant change recently and are feeling the discomfort of it, realize that this is normal.  These are growing pains.  You are not going crazy and you are not alone.  Many many people have been where you are and by the grace of God grown through it.  Hang in there and may Christ’s peace prevail for you. Blessings from The Practical Disciple.

3 Responses

  1. Laurie

    I started the step class for Celebrate Recovery. In the class I am working on giving up filling the emptiness inside with people (especially men), computer, and anxiety. The leader says that sometime during the about year long class, we will probably have some kind of a spiritual experience. I have had spiritual experiences before and what you say is true. I can usually count on feeling down following the experience because I am left wanting more. With the CR class, I will probably have to risk giving up the hang ups I have to get to the spiritual experience. That will be hard. It will be hard to stop trying to fill the void within and wait for Christ to fill it for me. What will I do? I’m not really sure at this point.

  2. John Arnold

    Thanks for the comment Laurie. These are exactly the kind of issues I am going to cover in the next few post. But I will say this for now. Staying in a small group and getting to meetings will be critical. Also, identify your red flags that you are getting in a danger zone. Also, have an action plan for how to respond when you spot those red flags. I will discuss these in more detail, so keep tracking posts. Once again, thank you and know that God will be near you during that time.

  3. Pingback : 10 Signs that You Are Resisting Change - The Practical Disciple

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