Monday, September 28, 2020

Growth and Change

When we talk about what it means to be constantly growing Godward, it's easy to misread that and to think that it means that we are constantly changing. How are we ever supposed to be a dependable people if we're constantly changing? How are we supposed to be in relationship with others, let alone with God and self, if who we are today is subject to change tomorrow? 

This line of thinking requires that we pause for a moment and define what growth is and what it isn't. Growth doesn't necessarily mean change; sometimes, it means simply development. A newborn baby grows into an adult, but that doesn't change the fundamental nature of the human being who is doing the growing. In the same way, a seedling sprouts and grows but doesn't change what it becomes. So we can't let the idea of growth make us believe that there's something unstable about it. Rather, growth is one of the most predictable, stable processes there is. 

That doesn't mean that you can't use growth for change. If you find that you're on a path that you don't particularly like or that is not leading to where you thought you were going, you can absolutely grow in a new direction. But to simply say that you're growing does not imply that you're changing. 

Now, here's what's cool about it: embracing a constant state of growth means that you get to choose all over again the things that you want to be. You get to keep choosing to be those things you want to be. You get to decide today and tomorrow and the day after that if that's someone you still want to be - if you want to keep it the way it is, take another step down that road, or turn around and try something else. 

Here's a somewhat silly example from my recent life. 

When I purchased my first vehicle, I was a young Christian. I was the kind of Christian who had her Christianity plastered all over everything. I had every Christian T-shirt and jewelry and bumper sticker and all the right books. I got a Jesus fish (ichthus) emblem for the front of my car, and I got a "Praise the Lord" license plate frame for the back of it. That was nearly 20 years ago. 

This past weekend while trying to change my license plate with a defective bolt posing a bit of a problem, I broke my "Praise the Lord" license plate frame. Now, 20 years is good for what is essentially very thin plastic. But the thing is, I really like the way these words are cut out and just the overall design of the thing, and they don't make them like this any more. Trust me; I've looked. And the truth is, I can't find a "Christian" license plate frame that I like any more. I like the one I had. 

Over the past twenty years, however, my faith has also grown. I don't plaster it all over everything like I used to because I understand that my faith is evidenced in the way that I live, not in the way that I decorate. And I have other interests now, too, which would make for good license plate frames. For example, I love my dog. Paw prints are great decor. I also found a beautiful butterfly frame that I like. Also, good decor. 

So the question becomes - who am I? Am I the kind of person who puts my love for my dog on my car? My fondness for butterflies and beautiful things? Or am I still that person who puts my love for Jesus on my car? 

When I first chose that frame, I chose it because I wanted everyone to know I was a Christian. (Let's just be honest about how our faith starts out.) But when I considered what I want to do with this now-empty space, the decision was about how I will feel driving that car. What do I want to be reminded of when I get into it? What do I want to feel sitting behind the wheel? What do I want my car to say to me, rather than about me? 

So here I am, twenty years from where I was. If I decide to put another "Christian" license plate frame on my car, does that mean I haven't changed? If I decide to go with paw prints, does it mean that I have? If I choose something other than "God" as my decor, does that mean that my faith is less real and vital to me today than it was back then? If I choose "God," does that mean my faith is exactly the same as it was when I first came into it? 

See, this is what we're talking about. The choice that I make in this situation already signals my growth in the way that I am choosing to make it. My life is, by its very design, different twenty years after I first made this decision. The way I approach this is different than it was back then. The considerations on my heart are different. That doesn't mean that I am different, that I have changed; it means that I have grown. I am now in a place where my top consideration is what I need to hear, not what I want to say. 

Which means that if I choose to replace my license plate frame with another "Christian" one, it will be because I have considered it, and I am choosing it again. Not because I chose it 20 years ago, but because I choose it again today. For different reasons, perhaps, and with a different process, but it will be a choice that I make in this season and no other. And if I choose it again, or even if I choose against it, it will be an evidence of growth. Godward growth, as in this case, it is an evidence of the way that my faith has developed over twenty years of living it. 

Disclaimer: Right now, the old license plate frame is currently upside-down on my car, the way that it would still fit. So don't judge me by that, either. The car looks so bare without one, and I haven't settled on a replacement yet.) 

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