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How to grow in rocky places

I don’t know about you, but these months of the pandemic have been humbling for me. There’s something about all the unsettledness of it—the rising deaths, the physical distancing, the uncertainty of when it will all come to an end—that has shifted and shaken me, causing my insecurities to rise to the top.

I’d love to be able to say that as I’ve sat with Jesus, I’ve quickly been able to settle back into peace, but that hasn’t always been the case. 

Sometimes the anxiety has persisted. Sometimes I’ve felt too numb to cry. Sometimes I’ve misunderstood the intentions of others, or worried that if I don’t pull it together quickly enough they’ll give up on me. 

I’ve often felt like by now I should know how to do this better.

But over the last few days I’ve realized that in all this, Jesus is once again adjusting my view of what growth looks like, and where it happens. 

When I look at others, I see the beauty of Jesus at work in raw and rocky places. But when I look at myself, my default is still too often to presume that growth should look like the absence of mess or struggle, or at least the ability to quickly clean up the mess and be untroubled by it.

Have I forgotten what I learned as an obstetrician, that the coming of life is always a messy process?

Do I not remember that when Jacob encountered God, he walked away with a limp?

And Paul experienced Christ’s presence not as healing but as strength made perfect in weakness?

And Jesus still wears scars?

As I’ve sat with Jesus, I’ve been invited back into seeing growth less as movement into unruffled stillness, a limpless walk, or unscarred palms, and more as deepening trust in the One who is with me no matter what is going on in me.

I’ve been invited to lean in and choose, each day, to turn my eyes back to the One who loves and welcomes all the parts of me like he welcomed the little children whom the disciples (themselves with challenges around trust and humility and love!) wanted to send away.

I’ve been invited to remember that it is God who formed us out of dust and breathed into us the breath of life. It is God who awakens dry bones and God who plants evergreen trees in the most unlikely of places (Genesis 2:7; Ezekiel 37; Isaiah 41:17-20).

I’ve sensed a whisper that perhaps, especially in the rocky stretches of life, growth looks like:

  • learning to be gentle with myself as Christ is gentle with me. For me this looks like each day bringing the fearful and sad and angry parts of me (and the grateful and playful parts) to sit on Jesus’ knee and listen together to what they’re wanting to say and how Jesus wants to love and comfort them.
  • choosing (again and again!) not to compare myself to others, but being content to live the life God has given me and be the person he is making me.
  • doing what I can to stay grounded and centered in God. This involves all the parts of me—body, mind, soul—as I breathe deeply, walk in nature, focus on the truth, and sit in stillness with God. The first step here is paying attention and noticing what helps quiet the anxiety and drivenness and opens me to hearing God’s voice. The next is doing them.
  • choosing to be honest and vulnerable with others, even when it is uncomfortable. This helps me grow in trust, and also offers hospitality to others as it opens space for them to share their own challenges.
  • accepting that some days and months are going to be more challenging than others, and that’s okay. These stretches are chances to grow in humility, gentleness, and a deepening trust in God’s love.

Thankfully, in God’s wise and creative hands, the most beautiful of growth can come in the most unlikely of places.

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Janice Cox

    What you write comes to me straight from the heart of God!

    1. Carolyn Watts

      I’m glad, Janice. Isn’t it amazingly gracious that God chooses so often to shows us his love through each other?

  2. Helen

    I so love how you craft words and images together so beautifully!

    1. Carolyn Watts

      Thanks, Helen. I have fun seeing how photos that I’ve recently taken often fit with what I’m thinking about in other areas of my life. It feels a bit like a game of hide and seek with God as I notice where the same theme is tucked into a surprising place!

  3. Melanie

    Awesome! Just what I needed today!

    1. Carolyn Watts

      I’m glad, Melanie. Much grace to you in these days!

  4. David Graham

    Wonderful post, as always, Carolyn!

    It made me remember something long forgotten, that my very first exegesis paper in Bible college was on Jacob’s wrestling match with God. I recall being particularly inspired by one commentator’s note: “The limp is the posture of the saint, walking not in physical strength but in spiritual strength.”

    In light of your post, perhaps we could reformulate it. “Rocky places are the sanctuary of the saint, growing not in fertile soil but in God’s strength through weakness.”

    1. Carolyn Watts

      Thanks, Dave. I love that commentator’s note and your adaptation of it!

  5. Sue

    Once again, you’ve helped me in my feeling of unwellness today, to move away from being self-blaming to self-quieting. You’ve helped me to accept where I’m at today and believe that growth will happen in my rocky places.
    Thank you, Carolyn. Please keep writing and sending these posts.

    1. Carolyn Watts

      I’m glad it was helpful, Sue. May you continue to know God at work in your rocky places!

  6. Barbara Abraham

    Sorry that I didn’t comment earlier….
    But Carolyn I can’t add any words to what you have said. It simply is beautiful and speaks directly to my heart. It’s as if I’m saying the words myself because you have written exactly how I feel. It makes me feel so tearful and yet I know I’m not the only one feeling like this, which is a great comfort . Thank you for being prepared to be so vulnerable .

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