Growing Up is Hard, and it Often Requires Pain | Sam Leopold
My daughter had been looking forward to her 4th birthday for months. 3-year-olds going on 4-year-olds don’t have a strong concept of time yet, but she knew “August eleventh” was coming at some point in the future and she could not wait to be a “big girl”. After the big build up, the day finally came, and Eloise was beaming with happiness. Her birthday was filled with lots of fun moments: a small, yet elegant (as requested by her) tea party birthday with Mom and a best friend mother-daughter pair, playing dress up in many moments throughout the day, enjoying a yummy cake, surprising her with a bike, and she was of course showered with presents from family members. She was very happy to be a big girl and to finally be four.
But the elation did not last long. First there was the first bike accident, which sent us in a tizzy of hurt and disappointment. Then there was the discontentment after the first round of playing with each toy and not feeling like she got enough presents. And then finally, the mourning of a loss of innocence the day after her birthday: “Dad, I miss being three. Being a big girl is hard”. For those of us in our 20’s and 30’s, I do not think we have moved beyond living in this tension of wanting to be more grown-up, coupled with the reality that being grown up, having more responsibility and the need to continuing growing as mature adults is just plain hard. It starts young, as my now four-year-old has experienced, but continues through each rite of passage. But as Eloise experienced through her bike accident, discontentment and mourning the loss of her thee-year-old life, growth rarely happens without some sort of pain.
Studying how Paul talks about growth in his many epistles as a whole provide a unique, and what I would argue, counter-cultural perspective of growth. When Paul begins his ministry, he has already spent close to 14 years in the deserts of Syria and in theological development to be prepared by God to be used mightily as an apostle and major author of the New Testament. What Paul had done to take steps of faith to plant churches all over the Roman and Greek empires even in the face of extreme persecution has rightly been well noted as an example given to the church by God to be an encouragement for us to adhere to a single hearted goal of seeing God’s kingdom expand here on earth. And yet we also see Paul’s weakness on display in passages like Romans 7, 2 Corinthians 4 and 2 Corinthians 12. It is clear that even though Paul is teaching and exhorting these churches, even 14 years into his walk with Christ, he is intentionally mentioning his weaknesses to the churches he is ministering to, and each passage has a sense of wrestling and struggling to pursue Christ and growth in his life. I think Paul’s intent is clear, growth requires faith in God that this is the right thing for us all, and it often requires pain. This could be the reason that Jesus uses the metaphor of pruning to that of spiritual growth.
America finds itself clamoring for growth and change. For those of us that long for a country that more resembles heaven in growing past the prejudices and racism that has been so tightly bound to the founding of our country, we realize there is much to be done. In the wake of the Charlottesville riots, I am left wondering what needs to be done. I am convinced that God wants to use the church to be a model of reconciliation for our country to see. God wants to use the church to be a model for forgiveness so that as people ask how this type of forgiveness is possible when we have seen so much hurt, we can respond, it is only because of the forgiveness we have received from Jesus. Only after experiencing this forgiveness from God that both those in majority culture who need to ask for forgiveness if we have ever used our privilege to wrong a fellow brother or sister in Christ, and those minorities who have been wronged can forgive. Those of us that desire growth, need to realize that growth in the church, achieving unity in the name of Christ, will require pain. It will not be easy, and it will require a whole-hearted commitment to change. If the American church ever wants to be the symbol of unity that our country needs it to be, it will require the pain of growth.
So the question remains, whether we are 4 years old, in our 20’s or 30’s, the apostle Paul or looking at the overall growth of the American church, will we choose the narrow and painful path of growth? Will we choose to look honestly at the spiritual health in our lives and courageously address unhealthy practices, or will we choose the easier path of just accepting a diseased state as our reality? We we accept responsibility as it is given to us, or will we just say it is too hard to grow up and throw our hands in the air. If we never grew up we would be missing out on a life God has truly intended for us. One where we experience more love from God the Father, more freedom from the Spirit and more power from the death and resurrection of Christ. To miss out on these blessings because of the discomfort and pain that growth requires, is to miss part of who God is, who we were meant to enjoy.