How, in a few short years, did a boy I love grow from a child into a 6’2”, gentle, committed young man with a really fun sense of humor?
How did a young woman mature into a 96-year-old queen whose death the world mourns because her faithful, steady wisdom and grace will be missed?
How does a family, a small group of friends, a congregation grow into a place where each person is seen and known, loved and welcomed and safe?
And how do I keep growing into someone whose heart and face and life look more and more like Jesus?
It’s Complicated. . .
There are probably thousands of answers, many of them offering valuable hints that can help us move forward. As Paul makes clear in Ephesians 4, our growth into maturity isn’t solitary but involves the whole community loving each other through speaking the truth in love and serving each other with the gifts we’ve each been given.
But over these recent weeks as I’ve noticed a deepening desire to keep growing, stay faithful, and finish well, I’ve also noticed how easy it is for me to become overwhelmed and distracted, letting good advice and good activities—even good service—distract me from that central thing without which everything else falls apart.
I find myself spinning in questions: What’s the best way forward? How do I learn to let go of my fears and love and trust instead? How, do I, with the rest of Christ’s body, “grow up into Christ”?
An old fear creeps in, the fear that growing up means no longer sitting with the children on Jesus’ knee, that it means needing to be brave and do more things myself without running to him for help quite so often. I try to be brave. But inside I’m crying.
. . . And Beautifully Simple
But God in his grace brings me back once again to the wonderfully freeing truth: no matter how hard I try, I can’t transform myself. I might, through hard work, make some small changes, but there’s only One who can bring about the deep changes that I need—and He does it by bringing me back again and again and again to look at Him and make my home in His love.
I know this: I am able to love, to hope, to live with joy only when I’m leaning in and finding myself secure in God’s love. But I keep falling out of it, needing God to return me again and again to this truth, helping me live more deeply in it.
Counterintuitive. . .
It keeps tripping me up because it’s so counterintuitive. How can it make sense that the way to grow up is to stay small, to become smaller, to savor the love? And yet in God’s upside-down kingdom where the least will be greatest and the last first, why should I be surprised that the way up is down and a big part of growth is learning to delight in being small and connected and filled?
. . . And Perfectly Clear
The secret isn’t just being small, though. It’s knowing ourselves small and safe in the arms of Someone great who loves us with his life. The secret is looking at Jesus, living as close to him as we can.
The writer to the Hebrews couldn’t have put it more clearly:
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.” (Hebrews 12:2)
Nor could Jesus himself:
“Remain in me.” (John 15:4)
Jesus and Paul make the reasons for this attentive trust, and the outcome of it, clear:
“If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18)
And when I forget and lose my way again? Thankfully, we have One who walks closely with us, guiding us back again and again to the path, the Way, Himself.
A final gift:
Sometimes Jesus’ gentle help comes through the words of others. This time, for me, the gift is in the first lines of Malcolm Guite’s poetic reflection on Psalm 5, helping me settle once again into the posture of looking at Jesus, returning myself and my perplexities to this One who never stops loving and healing:
“Safe in the love of one who’ll never part,
Of one whose kindness is itself a shield,
Who understands the deep things of my heart
Better than I can ever do, I yield
Myself and my perplexities to him,
And in his house of mercy I am healed. . .”