By TJ Poon
Have you ever thought about how we grow as people, or heard others talk about it? Share what you have heard prior to this lesson.
An environment of growth is defined as an environment that holds both grace and truth over a length of time.
“And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” (Luke 2:52)
When Christian teaching says that Jesus was both human and divine, that often gets interpreted to mean all kinds of things that aren’t explicitly in the text. We may have an image of Jesus coming out of the womb speaking full sentences, mind-reading and otherwise doing very un-infant-like things. This small verse, though, gives us insight into the reality of Jesus on earth, and that his human life still involved “increase,” or growth.
In the incarnation, Jesus shows us what it means to be human. To be human includes the need to grow. Jesus was not exempt from a growth process, even though his might have looked different. If Jesus had to grow, then so do we.
Growth will happen when an environment holds both grace and truth over a sustained length of time. In an agricultural metaphor, we can think about the environment as the soil in which we grow. Healthy soil will contain both grace, an atmosphere in which mistakes and errors are forgiven and love and acceptance do not need to be earned, and truth, in which we are more and more in touch with the reality of who God is and who we are.
These do not happen consistently outside of relationships. We cannot sustainably grow in isolation. When people begin to follow Jesus, they can sometimes adopt an extreme “Jesus and me” mentality, asserting that their relationship with the Lord is completely sufficient for all of their growth. This ignores that God actually intends our human relationships to be part of our spiritual journeys! You can spend hours in prayer and worship each day but you will still need to experience acceptance (grace) and direction (truth) in your relationships in order to grow into a spiritually mature person.
- Is it scary or comforting that God intends for other people to be part of your growth process? Where have you seen a “Jesus and me” mentality in yourself or others? Where does this mentality fall short?
Psychologically and biologically, experiencing love and acceptance that does not depend on our behavior is foundational to our wellness as humans. If this unconditional acceptance is missing from our families of origin, we will be limited in our ability to form meaningful attachments until we experience healing in that area. In our lives, we will only be able to receive truth to the degree that we are connected to that acceptance (grace). When we discern in ourselves a fear of truth, that means a part of us is not fully connected to the loving embrace of God
In a soil where grace and truth are consistently present, growth will occur over time. The third ingredient, time, is not something that can be skipped. This is where the agricultural metaphor is profound. No matter how healthy the soil, growth always takes time. While a child planting a bean for the first time will walk by every few hours (or minutes!) to check on it, the experienced planter knows that it may be some time before anything that is happening becomes obvious.
That can be a frustrating part of the human experience, but it is natural. When grace and truth are present, you can trust that whether you can perceive it or not, growth will occur over time.
- Have you ever been frustrated that you weren’t “as far along” as you would have hoped? How does the above paragraph speak to that frustration for you?
While the passage of time is a key component for growth, not all time is equal. Dr. Cloud makes the distinction between “good time” and “bad time.” Good time is time in which we and our experiences can be affected by grace and truth. That generally means that we are acknowledging reality and staying in relationships. If we have removed some aspect of ourselves from time (by an unwillingness to face or deal with truth), then grace and truth cannot transform it.
It’s important to reiterate that we need safe and healthy relationships in order to grow. If we didn’t have those things growing up, and if we don’t have them now, the wise Holy Spirit working alongside our subconscious will sometimes keep things buried until a later ”good time.” For example, painful things from one’s past may only come to the surface when that person has experienced time and space away from that environment and has a community of believers who are loving, gracious, and truthful. Even though that can catch us off-guard, when this happens we can trust God’s good timing and courageously step into those truths when we feel ready to do that.
Questions for processing:
- How healthy is my environment for producing growth?
- Do I have relationships where love and acceptance is given to me unconditionally? Am I getting help and support that is going to be there regardless of how I am doing?
- Am I becoming more and more in touch with reality by putting myself in places where I am learning the truth about God, the world and myself?
- Are there parts of my life or story that I am not allowing to be impacted by the work of time, by denying or hiding them?
- What do you want to take with you from this lesson? How did God speak to you?