As the New Year begins and everyone is making resolutions (I prefer to call mine Spiritual goals), I am reminded of the importance of three powerful P’s: prayer, patience and perseverance. I am a pretty passionate person by nature so I jump into things with a lot of expectation. A downfall to this is the temptation to become disillusioned if things do not go according to my vision. This is not the healthiest recipe for spiritual growth or way to change bad habits into virtue, so I better manage this through prayer, being aware of my tendencies, and reminding myself of something simple: slow growth is still growth.
So often it is easy to grow discouraged when we start again with the same struggles. We can be tempted to think, “Really God, I thought I wasn’t going to have to struggle with this anymore. I’ve worked on this already.” I am the queen of checklists and too often I approach my healing this same way; I want to check problems off my list and move on, never having to return to them again. How nice would that be, right?
I see this pattern of thinking a lot. We want change in a neat, predictable, linear fashion. We want to control the process and the timeline for progress. It is easy to get frustrated when we feel we are not growing and healing as quickly as we planned. Or worse, we feel that all the time, prayers, and energy spent on our growth has not bore the fruits we expect. Fr. Henri Nouwen offered some beautiful insight and hope when I was growing discouraged with certain imperfections:
“When suddenly you seem to lose all you thought you had gained, do not despair. You must expect setbacks and regressions. Don’t say to yourself, “All is lost. I have to start all over again.” This is not true. What you have gained you have gained….When you return to the road, you return to the place where you left it, not to where you started.”
Let his words sink in. The devil would like to discourage us, but God uses everything we are willing to give Him, even our sense of discouragement and frustration. He can take our continual struggles and use them to help cultivate deeper virtue within us. Sometimes the setbacks or repeated struggles are meant to humble us and awaken our need for God. This is especially true for those of us who are very self-reliant. God shows His mercy towards me by letting me fail on my own so I can recognize my need for Him. It does not always feel like a gift, but it is. He wants to break me of this wound of self-reliance so that I learn to depend on Him, be patient with myself, and trust that His grace is sufficient for me.
If we are open to being pruned, then these moments of growing slowly can offer us a true gift; a chance to fall into God’s arms and rely on Him for our every need. St. Francis de Sales said,
“Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them – every day begin the task anew.”
This is our aim as Christians. Regardless of how yesterday went, we can commit ourselves to begin anew each day relying on God for every grace we need in this life. Growing in holiness, creating healthy relationships, healing from life’s hurts, learning to love ourselves, are all things every one of us will continue to struggle with this side of Heaven. Whether our growth is instantaneous or barely visible, we must always remember our God is faithful and so long as we come to Him, we will not be left unchanged. Every encounter with Jesus changes us for the better. So, this New Year as you set about trying to better yourself, remember to be patient if you are not seeing the fruit yet. Persevere in the face of discouragement, never allowing your imperfections and weaknesses to diminish your hope or vision of whom you are becoming with God’s grace. And pray, because we cannot grow in holiness on our own.
If you find yourself growing slowly, praise God. At least you are moving.
© 2018 Drewe DeJesus
Photo by Colin Rex at Freely Photos