Signs of Growth

Most folks I know mark their children's height on some kind of growth chart. Many of us just pencil in lines on a wall or inside a doorframe somewhere in the house. My children still occasionally come in and demand to be measured, even though I now have to stand in a chair to draw a mark at the tops of their heads. My sister-in-law has charted the growth of both her children and mine inside a doorway into her kitchen. Perhaps there is a little competition going on there among our four boys.

Inner growth is harder to recognize, much less keep track of. It is difficult to say, "Let's see how much you've grown spiritually" and then put an X on a chart somewhere. One cannot plot one's spiritual growth the way one charts a child's physical growth. Which may be a good thing - I imagine that my chart would not be a steady line going up but rather one that seems to go forward for a while and then takes a turn for the worse for a while. And I would certainly not want to see my chart subjected to the percentiles calculator to see how I stack up against others!

Still, it's important to look for and recognize signs of one's spiritual growth. For myself, it sometimes happens that I suddenly become aware that I now understand something that used to bother me, or that I am not spending energy on this thing or that thing any more. Although "understand" is a relative term here - I do not actually "understand" prayer, or the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, or the resurrection, but thanks to something I read or something someone said that opened it all up for me in a way that helped me see it differently, I now recognize that I have grown.

Which leads to this recognition: Like most spiritual things, spiritual growth is best done in community. We wrestle with others, not to sharpen our blades against one another, but to engage spiritual questions and allow ourselves to be transformed in community. It never ceases to amaze me how much I learn from people whom I would not necessarily think to go to with a burning spiritual question. Sometimes an offhand comment by someone I hardly know at the hospitality hour goes to the very heart of something I've been fretting about for weeks, so that I have an "aha moment" and the door to a new understanding is unlocked. Sometimes a deliberate discussion with those I consider teachers and mentors leads me to formulate my own, different, take on something, which I could not have done if I were simply in my room, puzzling alone.

Our spiritual growth is not linear or progressive or predictable. There is no need for a percentile calculator to see how we stack up against others in our spiritual growth. We are individuals with free will who strive to be in community as the Body of Christ in order to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. Our own growth strengthens the community just as it strengthens us in our personal spiritual life. Others support us in our growth, whether or not we are aware of that support. And we support others, even when we are not necessarily trying to. It just happens when we are intentional about being in community, when we are present to God and to one another, just as it happens that green shoots come out of bulbs in February.
Because that's how bulbs work. And that's how the beloved community works, too.