by Melinda Schmidt
From the time our brains click in as little kids, we just can’t wait to “be a grown up!” The seemingly magnificent rewards and freedom that come with adulthood motivate us to do all the tedious learning of early life stage development. But internal, or spiritual growth is an option, and it’s been my experience that evangelicals are often raised to take that one step of “conversion” and kind of stick around in that space for the entirety of their lifetime. Leaving the church or spiritual nest in order to “explore” is frowned upon. At once we are struck by the absurdity of this, for there isn’t a thing on this planet that I know of that is meant to be birthed and stay in that infant stage!
So when spiritual growing pains become unbearably persistent in an environment that values staying in a box, thoughts like “What’s wrong with me?” or, “Am I crazy?” can send us into denial in order to cope. We may feel like there’s no one around us with whom we can experience authentic faith questions or doubts. As we begin to suppress the natural feelings and desires for spiritual maturity, we can feel anxious. A nagging buzz of spiritual depression can be persistent behind our “get along” smile and attitude.
In fact, our souls and our bodies are talking to us, begging to be heard and attended! We were created to grow up. Even God’s Son, Jesus, matured both physically and spiritually. If you need a proof text, look at Luke 2:52. “And Jesus kept on growing—in wisdom, in physical stature, in favor with God, and in favor with others.” (The Voice)
Hagberg and Guelich’s spiritual life-stage work in their book, The Critical Journey, offers a spacious and compassionate understanding of the faith life. (Click here for a helpful one-page summary of their work) Here our faith is expanding, getting wider, sturdier, and resilient as time passes, crazy life happens, and our faith becomes our own, just like the ever growing enlargements of the rings of a tree that move outward with continued growth.
I once proposed that the ministry in which I served adopt Hagberg and Guelich’s work as a metric for vision casting future ministry efforts. Instead, leadership chose a metric of works to both measure spiritual growth and solve for future ministry in this postmodern generation. They preferred to see measurements in terms of how often one reads the Bible, tithes, prays, attends church, etc. While these valuable out-workings of the life of Christian faith are supported in Scripture, they are the hallmarks of early-stage spiritual development. And none of us, not the plants in our garden, the whales in the ocean, or ourselves, as human beings, are meant to stay in early-stage development of any sort. To my own sadness, that works metric did not address the rich in-workings more developed persons experience by moving into the questions and unexpected bursts that come along with grown up life. After all, these are some of the surprises ahead that we can’t begin to understand as children, but are challenged to address as we mature:
Spouses may promise they’ll be with us forever, but….
- Grown children struggle with learning or emotional disabilities and suddenly we realize they may never be able to leave our family nest
- God’s mysteries become either aggravating or more awesome
- Physical and mental health issues land at our family’s doorstep
- New choices await us as we enter midlife: jobs lost or altered, health insurance options, geographic downsizing opportunities beg for a decision
- Our voices are raw from crying out to God when He is seemingly not understandable, or face it, controllable
These are the experiences that invite us into personal and spiritual growth and deeper relationship with our Creator. I’m grateful to read of the life journeys of many saints of the Hebrew scriptures as their stories of transformation, in the face of the harrowing, have been richly chronicled. (See the life of Moses, the assorted Psalmists, the diaries of Lamentations, Jeremiah, Jonah, Esther, Ecclesiastes, and the assorted prophets)
The freedom all grown-ups are offered as they make their lives and faith their own is the same freedom God has always offered us as we grow with him. If our faith communities (read churches, Christian music, friendships, radio stations, popular reads, or other spiritual influencers) don’t acknowledge that and support us in that space how do we find the supports we need to spiritually grow up?
- Fortunately, we now have the glories of the Internet. Finding like-minded others who are blogging or podcasting or writing books or posting websites is easier than ever! Get on the hunt. Find like-minded others on Facebook or Twitter. “Friend” their friends.
- You may be lamenting that evangelical bookstores are going out of business in your area, but have you thought of visiting a Catholic or Episcopalian bookstore and walking their aisles? Widen your input circle in every way possible.
- Finding like-minded friendships or faith communities can be more of a challenge. Starting a conversation group with just one other like-minded person is a start. Asking God to reveal more of those people to us can be quite miraculous as he brings them into our lives as we take action and search for them.
- Visiting churches that are outside of our known denominations can be another path of healing and growth. Does that seem like a preposterous consideration? (After all, you may have grown up in a denomination that is certain “we are right and they are wrong!”) Would you be willing to try a new church community?
Be assured, spiritual growth is your right. You aren’t crazy to want for more, but you may be caged where you are. Without judging others, focus on what it will take for you to move forward and care for your own spiritual maturity.
Melinda Correa Schmidt has been in and out of radio for over 30 years, most recently with Moody Radio’s Midday Connection daily talkshow for women, and the Bring To Mind podcast. She completed her Masters degree in Intercultural Studies at Wheaton College in 2015. She and her husband Dave live in the western suburbs of Chicago, where Dave has had a consulting business in strategic planning and vision casting for nonprofit organizations for nearly 40 years. They have a young adult daughter and son. Oh, and the dog, Pippa! (alias: Queen of the Home)
Melinda enjoys learning and conversing about ideas and personal growth. She is presently enjoying thinking about God’s unconditional love (I John 4), a topic that seemed too tender to explore in earlier years. A book she has appreciated reading lately is Christine Valters Painter’s The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within, and she enjoys a new hobby of collecting children’s books, such as Marie-Helene Delval’s, Images of God for Young Children. Melinda believes in the gift of each woman taking time to discover who she is with her self, God, and others.
Thank you for this post; I could relate to so much of it. I have 2 teenagers with autism, and I lost my mom and a close friendship in the past few years. I now live more out of God’s grace and acceptance than ever before, because principles and expectations just don’t work in my life. Thanks for reassuring me that maybe this is right where I need to be spiritually. I really appreciated that chart from The Critical Journey as well; that book title is unfamiliar to me and I’m eager to check it out. Thanks so much.
Thanks for commenting, Jeannie! I’ve found the descriptions of spiritual growth in The Critical Journey of great help, too.
Just would like thank you Melinda for this post. This is so timely words can’t express. A friend posed a question to me just last week ‘what if you took a break from church for 3 mths?” The thought alone made feel elated. When & if it happens not sure but I felt entrusted with my walk in the Lord at 53yr 😄God Bless
It is a great question! Sometimes a “selah” gives us space to recalibrate, and think through why we’re doing what we’re doing.
Wow, Melinda – this is so well written -well-said. You have put words to much of my own journey of late. Thank you for leading the way by example and sharing your journey and ponderings with us.
Melinda – What’s again I resonate with your timely words here. Oddly, though, I recognize that even I have tended in the past to measure my own Christian growth in the same way.
“They preferred to see measurements in terms of how often one reads the Bible, tithes, prays, attends church, etc. While these valuable out-workings of the life of Christian faith are supported in Scripture, they are the hallmarks of early-stage spiritual development. And none of us, not the plants in our garden, the whales in the ocean, or ourselves, as human beings, are meant to stay in early-stage development of any sort.”
My plugging away through those same “measurements” has offered little relief to this aching in my soul as I struggle through a long season of disappointment. Thank you for helping me see that perhaps I need to look beyond and find new ways, new paths.