In my last post, I talked about the necessity of pruning for spiritual growth. Because we are pain-averse, we try our best to avoid circumstances that are difficult or painful. But spiritual growth happens in the situations when we are most challenged. As Psalm 23 reminds us we go through the valley, not around it.
If we are seeking to travel faithfully on the path of discipleship, we have to recognize that the path will be rocky in places, dark in others, and sometimes impossible to see. For sure, we will have to give up our notions of control if we are to grow in our faithfulness. Parker Palmer says, “hardships are seen not as accidental but as integral to the journey itself. Treacherous terrain, bad weather, taking a fall, getting lost—challenges of that sort, largely beyond our control, can strip the ego of the illusion that it is in charge and make space for the true self to emerge.”
If we are determined to be in control, we will find ourselves unable to advance in faith. Grasping control may take us completely off the path of spiritual growth, because we avoid the difficult positions and places that call us to exercise our faith muscles. Grasping control keeps us from developing the traits needed for faithfulness. Joan Chittister notes that the goals and values of the spiritual life are “just plain different from the goals and values we’ve been taught by the world around us. Winning, owning, having, consuming, and controlling are not the high posts of the spiritual life.” These all revolve around possession and control.
The events of life will eventually wrest control from us. How we respond will determine if we grow bitter or faithful. Lack of control is a little death, and as we faithfully “die before we die” we are able to approach the next death, and the final death, with greater peace and acceptance.
Our willingness to go through difficulty, rather than over or around it, may very well be the refining that leads us to stronger faith and deeper love for God. And this leads us to a more faithful witness for Christ, who both told us and showed us that suffering is part of choosing the path of discipleship.