“You’re glad I came when I’m gone, but you wish I’d leave when I’m there. It hurts when I help. I stretch when I strengthen. Who am I?”
You may already have guessed the answer. It took me awhile. I have never been very good at riddles and I needed to read the entire story illustration before I recognized the truth in this riddle. The answer? Growth.
In one moment we can say we want to grow, but in another we strain against growth because early in our lives we begin to understand that growth can be painful in many different ways. In childhood we might complain of our legs hurting and be told that it is just “growing pains”. That usually means little to us. We also might be told when we are acting in childish ways that we need to “grow up”.
We know growth is important and a necessary part of life, but what makes it difficult for us, even painful? What can cause us to resist it?
Perhaps we resist growth because it means change and even though we might casually say we are looking forward to a change or we need a change, change is rarely easy for us even though it is one of life’s constants. Change pushes us out of our comfort zones that may have cajoled us to believe we have some measure of control. Change requires us to learn something new or to adapt or to give up something we like or have grown accustomed to in our lives.
Changes require us to not only do things differently, but also to think about things differently, to get a new perspective, to change the lens that we have been accustomed to and know so well. Change is rarely easy. That is especially true when it involves something inside of us that needs to be adjusted.
Change produces challenges. Those challenges can come on more than one level at a time. We can be most acutely aware of that when we experience a significant loss such as loss in our own health, loss of a job, loss of someone we love, or loss of a home. Subtler changes of loss include aging, transitioning to a new position in our jobs, returning to school each fall. These subtle losses are ones we expect will happen at certain seasons, but the shift within us still poses challenges.
Challenges that we set for ourselves might be more acceptable, but challenges that we did not choose or cannot control test our metal. They can cause us to doubt our abilities, our experience, our understandings, our endurance, our strength, our faith, and us, but that seems to be what the Lord most often uses to develop greater levels of trust. It is precisely in these situations where we cannot move forward unless we do trust to a greater degree. It pushes us to trust in the One greater than us, to lean into and onto Him more heavily, and to believe His faithfulness to us with more certainty.
And what does that process produce? It produces growth. We can celebrate growth when the process has ended, the pain of it has subsided, but that growth and its rewards have a purpose we may not see. The purpose? That growth so fresh and new will equip us for the next change, the next challenge, and the next growth spurt ahead. The process is a key component of the Lord’s love for us. How? He does so by helping us to trust Him more as He equips us for the path ahead.