True Spiritual Growth, in Wind or Calm | The Savings Wife

Friday, July 19, 2013

True Spiritual Growth, in Wind or Calm

With my youngest now in school I have regained my times of quiet and solitude. I have relief from the constant barrage of requests. I have been able to refocus my days in prayer and reading, in seeking God. He is growing me and I am loving it.  But I just came across this statement that slapped me silly in John Ortberg's The Life You've Always Wanted:

"She had never been taught to see that caring for two young children, offered daily with expressions of gratitude and prayers for help and patient acceptance of trials, might become a kind of school for transformation into powerful servanthood beyond anything she had ever known." 
This slapped me silly because it gave me a new lens to see the past seven years. It slapped me silly because, with that new lens, I was able to see how, as hard as they were for me, those years were extremely transforming. I am not the same person now that I was when my first child was born. This begs the question: if those years were hard for me, if finding time to read God's word and concentrate on prayer was next to impossible, if I didn't feel God's wind beneath my wings for spiritual growth, how did such extreme transformation take place? The answer is in the question: I didn't understand true spiritual growth.

True Spiritual Growth

John Ortberg defines spiritual growth as growing in love for God and in love for others. That's it. If we are growing in love for God and others, we are growing spiritually. With that being said, it is the end that matters, not the means; it is the heart that matters, and not the actions. A person can do one action and get two completely different heart results.
For example, I have read my bible in a way that grew me in love for God and others. I also have read my bible in a way that allowed me to check a box on the "good Christian to-do list," growing me only in love for my self and my accomplishment. Again, I have provided a meal for friends-in-need in a way that grew me in love for God and others. I also have provided a meal for friends-in-need in a way that caused me to yell at my children for getting in the way of my good deed. One action, two different heart results: one is spiritual growth; the other is toxic. True spiritual growth, however it happens, causes us to grow in love for God and in love for others.

The Cause of Spiritual Growth

The honest truth about spiritual growth is that it is God's business, not ours. It's not that we don't play any part in it, but the growth itself comes from God, not our effort. John Ortberg gives the analogy of driving a sailboat. It is God's job to provide the wind; it is ours to maneuver the sails to make the most of the wind when it blows.

Interestingly with this analogy, in my experience God grows us both with the wind and the calm. The wind is what I am in now: a time of intense and joyful growth; where His presence is so close; I feel His spirit nudge me often; and I am lifted up by the fun, almost tangible feeling of His walking alongside me. But the calm is what I have just emerged from: a time when He took His wind away for a while; a time of not being able to feel His presence regularly or feel His spirit nudge me often; a time of distraction with the cares of this world, the busyness of raising babies; a time when I felt much more like I was floundering than soaring. And yet, looking back, I realize that God grew me immeasurably during the calm, as He is during the wind. The calm was not as fun, but it was still growth, the growth of learning to trust in Him, to wait on Him, to believe that He loves me, to believe that He will one day bring back the wind.

True Spiritual Training

As the mother in the quote above, I had wrongly assumed that my spiritual growth was tied solely to bible reading and prayer. I judged my spiritual growth based on whether I was reading my bible often and, more importantly, with quality and depth. I judged my spiritual growth based on whether I was able to spend quality time with my hands folded and my head bowed. Was I listening to God? Was I hearing from Him? Usually, the answer was, "not enough."

What I had failed to see was how God used that time of calm to train me in so many other areas. While bible reading and prayer can be wonderful disciplines for spiritual growth, there are many more in which God was training me, without my even realizing it:

Humility. I am not, by nature, a backseat sort of person. I like the spotlight. I chose teaching as a profession partly because it allowed me to be center-stage every day. I enjoyed the recognition of my peers when I created a spectacularly creative lesson plan. I loved reaching my students through my wit and humor. In contrast, every single day of stay-at-home motherhood was a training in humility. It was not about me. I received no admiration for my skills, no applause or accolades. I felt trapped by insignificant, mundane, repetitious tasks. Countless times I questioned whether staying home with my kids was really what I wanted to do. And yet, every day I chose again that there is nothing greater to which I can give my life than raising my children. Time and time again I chose them over myself. God used each choice to train me to put others first. Humility.

Servanthood. When I worked full-time, household chores were tasks that were in the way of real life. I did them as quickly as I could so that I could get on with the important stuff. You should see the way I clean my house now. At home alone, with my sweet music playing, my cleaning has become a task of serving, an expression of gratitude to God and of love for my family. Mondays are my cleaning days and it is ridiculous how much I enjoy them. It's ridiculous how much I enjoy the insignificant, mundane, repetitious tasks of laundry, dishes, and cleaning. God has spent the last seven years training me to serve my family in love and to use those acts as expressions of gratitude for all that God has given me. He has transformed my heart and helped me to do small things for Him and for others. Servanthood.

Stewardship. When Isaac was a baby and we had two toddler boys come over to play, I was horrified at how destructive they were, little tornadoes in my well-ordered home. These days, toddler boys are still little tornadoes. What has changed is me. Through all the phases of motherhood, God has been training me to release, little by little, my white-knuckled ownership of my stuff. This house is His. The stuff is His. If He leads me to invite fifteen little tornadoes into my (well, His) well-ordered home, who am I to stand in the way? Each time I make space and grace for others, it is yet another opportunity to give what I have, and to serve with the "stuff" and the time God has given me. It's all His anyway; I just get to use it for a while. Stewardship.

The Result
Those seven years of training in humility, servanthood, and stewardship all grew me in love for God and in love for others. I am a work in progress, and am perfect in none of these areas, but, wow have I grown, not to my glory, but to the glory of God in me! And those three areas are not the only ones where God has been training me. There are more: thankfulness, joy, patience, dependence. He has done so much in those seven years of calm to grow me in love for Him and for others.

This realization gives me so much joy. I know stay-at-home motherhood is not hard for everyone, but I also know there are mothers like me, for whom it is a daily challenge as well as a daily joy. I want to share with them my retrospect that, though bible reading and prayer is so hard to do with either quality or quantity during those years, God is still at work. If you are in a time of calm, when the Spirit of God is not blowing through, raising your sails with tangible growth, hold on to the truth that God is still at work. Every day that the calm remains, remind yourself that He is at work in you, whether you feel it or not. Train yourself to apply Colossians 3:17 to every task of motherhood: "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." A heart that learns to do that is the kind of heart God can grow in love for Him and in love for others: true spiritual growth.

Written by Megan Lagoy
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