This week I had a long conversation with a woman in her mid-forties about personal growth and maturation. We talked about how much wiser a person gets as time goes on, and how much more fun prom would be if everyone went when they were 25 and more confident.
During our conversation, she shared several of the ups and downs she’s encountered in adulthood, but she also said her level of happiness continues to increase as she gets older. As she learns more, experiences more and moves from one season to the next, this lady becomes exponentially more happy. She’s growing, and her life is full.
This makes sense to me as a reader. In fiction, characters become more interesting as the story goes on. We become attached to characters as we learn more about their histories and personal complexities. By the end of the story, a quality character feels real.
I believe the same goes for us. The growth and maturation we see as time moves forward enriches our history and makes us more complex. Maybe even more complete. We grow into who we are created to be.
In my life, I find this to be true in the minor stuff (today I ate coconut, avocado and hummus) and in large ways (I’m more comfortable in my own skin). For me, growth happens under three different circumstances:
#1 I push myself to move forward, try new things and face the unknown. For example, the coconut, avocado and hummus I ate today would have made me gag a year ago. Coconut smells like sunscreen, and avocados/hummus look absolutely disgusting (plus I professed having an extreme “texture problem,” which I’m pretty sure I made up entirely). Anyway, one day I forced myself to give these guys a whirl, and now I can’t get enough. Maybe trying a new food is a dumb example, but I think there is something to be said for setting aside what you think you know in an effort to discover what is true. Putting yourself in a challenging or uncomfortable situation can be a real catalyst for growth.
#2 I inadvertently adapt when circumstances change. Last year I moved back home with my parents. As I look back on this year in their basement, I can see ways that I grew without really intending to. Ironically, I’ve become less co-dependent and more sure of myself over the last 14 months under their roof. I’ve also learned a lot about compassion.
# 3 God changes me. This isn’t just a passive move — it can require trust and intentionality on my part — but the actual work of change isn’t my own either. These are the changes that God makes in my heart, mind and life in spite of me. This happens when I have every reason to be upset with someone, and I’m suddenly reminded of grace. My feelings of anger or distress are replaced with peace, and it has nothing to do with my own good-heartedness. Or when I’m having a self-pity day, and I’m given the unexpected opportunity to cheer someone else up. I think the theology-word I’m looking for is sanctification.
Reading old journals is a really cool way to chart growth. In addition to looking back, it’s also exciting to imagine the ways I might grow in the next few years. By the time I’m an old lady, I hope I’m mature enough to sit through an episode of “A Baby Story” without passing out. We’ll see. In the meantime, let me tell you how much you need avocado in your life. I’m challenging you to grow if you haven’t yet given this piece of produce a fair shot: