When we talk about growth, even growing Godward, we have to figure out what a reasonable expectation is. The Bible puts a pretty high standard on it - God says to be perfect because He is perfect. And if we truly live as citizens of heaven, then we believe in perfect things.
Trust me. This gets me into a lot of trouble. Because I believe in perfect things. I believe things ought to be knowable and doable and that they ought to follow a predicted order. Not just any old order, but a certain wisdom that there is to the world because God put it there. And one of the things that slows me down and trips me up in this world more than anything else is the eye that I have for the 'ought to be.' I want so badly to live like the ought to be...actually is.
And yet, we know that there is no such thing as perfection on this side of Eden. If perfection is our goal, we don't stand a chance. We're never going to get there, not as long as we live in a broken flesh.
So this creates some tension. Doesn't it? On the one hand, perfection is the aim; we cannot let our sights be set on anything less than God's wisdom and glory. On the other hand, it's unattainable for us here; it's just not possible. That leaves us with really two options - we can keep beating ourselves up and feeling like failures every day because we are not perfect, because we always have our eyes on ways that we can be better at something, do better at something, live better somehow. Or we can modify our definition of what it means to grow, even to grow Godward.
This is something - maybe you know this by now - that I wrestle with a lot. It's something I've been wrestling with for a long time. I just can't seem to let go of perfect. And the most challenging part of all of this is...I don't think I have to.
I think what we need is to develop eyes for the kind of perfect that is in line with God's love and God's will and God's wisdom - the things that we are told are perfect - but we have to develop a heart for goodness, or in the case of a life being lived, I think we can call it 'fruitfulness.'
Think about any plant that produces anything - flowers, fruits, nuts, whatever. There aren't any two that are the same. No two apples are just alike. No two flowers are perfectly identical. No two trees, even if you planted them from the seeds of the same fruit, will grow up to be exactly alike. Because nature doesn't work this way. Trees, bushes, flowers, grasses, they don't think about being 'perfect;' they think about being fruitful. They do whatever they can, and whatever they have to, to bear fruit into this world.
That's how we get all these really neat-looking root systems. On my walks with my dog in the morning, I see tree roots that have grown around full in a circle and gone back toward the place where they began because they hit pavement and ran out of room to grow in their first direction. I've seen flowers bloom out of cracks in the curb because that's the place that was open for them to spread. It's easy to look at something like this and think that these living things have only their survival on their mind, that they'd do whatever they had to just to survive, but that's not it. The tree is not satisfied just to be a tree; it wants to bear fruit. The flower is not happy just to be a stem; it wants to blossom. All of creation is wired for this kind of fruitfulness. So are we.
And that's what growth - good, holy, God-pleasing growth - is about. It's not about achieving perfection; God knows we'll never get there. It's about pushing through toward fruitfulness, toward finding new ways to mature into bringing beauty and nourishment into this world. It's about showing more of the colors and nutrients that God has put in you to display. It's about constantly finding a way to push through and blossom.
Most of us wait until we have our stem just right before we dare to bloom, but Godward growth is about blooming anyway. It's about taking that risk and putting it out there and letting it be shaped , even by this broken world.
Which is part of the beauty of it all, too. From a distance, the fruitful plant looks spectacular, but when you get down right next to it, you see all the ways this broken world is eating at it. You see all the little bugs crawling around, all the sun-scorched spots, all the dried-up leaves. You see every way this world is getting to it, and yet, it doesn't let those things stop its fruitfulness. Not when it has become mature.
This is growth. This is what God desires from us. That we would have eyes for what is perfect, yes, so that we see His wisdom and will and love in everything. But that we would also set our hearts on fruitfulness because we're growing in a broken world where perfect isn't plausible, but goodness absolutely is.