I’ve been using a devotion book based on the writings of Julian of Norwich. It’s meant to be used over a 30-day period, but the writings are so deep that I often spend 2-3 weeks with each day’s message. The one I am currently reading talks about how we cannot come to know our own spirit until we know God, because our spirit dwells in God.
While we may long to know our spirit, Julian warns that our longing will be accompanied by sorrow. This perplexed me at first, until I considered that a longing to know one’s spirit is born from the desire to be more fully who one is created to be. And this longing to be our true self comes from a desire to grow in intimacy with God.
All my life I’ve heard the term “growing pains.” It’s so familiar to me that I can forget just how true it is. All real spiritual growth is accompanied by pain, because growth involves leaving behind something comfortable and familiar. It involves disorientation.
But this could be descriptive of all change, not just spiritual growth. You may be resistant to change or may not see any reason to change. You may not really want to grow because you are satisfied with what you know of yourself and God.
Nature tells us that everything is always in some state of change. Spring gives way to summer, then fall and then winter. Change is unavoidable. Resisting change is painful but it is a different kind of pain than growth brings. When we choose to grow, we are aware that there will be pain associated with growth. We invite the disorientation that comes with spiritual growth, because we trust that a new orientation will come, one accompanied by a deeper and fuller knowledge of God and self. Those who resist change will still be disoriented and suffer pain, but their pain may catch them by surprise and may cause them to see themselves as victims, questioning the existence or faithfulness of God.
Avoiding the pain of growth means we’ll eventually suffer the pain of change. For a long while we may shield ourselves from the pain of change by hardening ourselves emotionally or attempting to control the circumstances and people around us or by attacking those who are different from us or who disagree with us. When crisis strikes, we are likely to be shattered because of our rigidity. Those who choose the path of growth with its accompanying pain know that the longing for a growing intimacy with God is pain worth bearing.