Healthy Growth 101

Growth is something we all want but the path to get there isn’t always one we welcome or that we know how to navigate. But we are all growing, in some way or another. When facing hard circumstances, we may be growing better or bitter, but every day our lives present us with opportunities to grow.

Sometimes it may not feel like we are growing. We may feel like we are just in survival mode, barely getting  by.

How can we shift from survival mode thinking into a growth mindset?
Survival mode is all too familiar to Amber, who has been a single mom for eight years. Parenting alone through difficult times has made her pushback against the idea of hardship making her stronger. Self-pity can creep in when we are exhausted and overwhelmed just trying to get by. When she finds herself in that place, one thing that helps is remembering that God is with her in hard circumstances, and she asks Him for help. “Lord, help me to live the life you want me to live and help me submit to your hands.”  But she doesn’t start there. She starts with complaints and arguing with God but, ultimately, she says, “I’ve come to learn that trusting Him and submitting to His plan does allow growth to come out of hard things. And if I’m going to go through something hard, I at least one something good to come from it.”

Growth isn’t easy. We can’t just positively think ourselves out of hard circumstances or into a growth mindset. But there are some things we can do to turn obstacles into opportunities to grow. We can reframe our perspective and find God in our situations. Robert shares that for him, “More often than not, growth happens when I submit and surrender and let God do His work.”
The dictionary defines growth as “progressive development, evolution, increasing, expansion”. Growth is about improving. Whether it’s a weakness or a strength, growth is about an increase in something, god or bad. We are always growing. The question is whether we are growing in healthy or unhealthy ways. We are always evolving and expanding as humans, parents, potential mates one day.

“Personal growth is not about fixing yourself. It’s not just about recognizing your weakness. It’s about loving yourself and accepting yourself, wholly and unconditionally, recognizing your strengths as well and appreciating and growing in them. And that’s an important distinction”, shares Robert.

“Self-compassion is sometimes an overlooked component of growth”, Amber notes. Without self-compassion, we can easily get stuck in self-pity, despair, depression, and anxiety. Being gentle with yourself is necessary or you will be too discouraged to continue. “Growth isn’t about pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps. It’s about asking God for help, trusting Him to slowly refine me, one step at a times as we surrender to Him.”

So, if it’s not about our efforts, how do we lean into growth or find motivation to change?
Amber says that one of her biggest teachers and propellants toward growth were her children. While in survival mode, just trying to keep things afloat, she found herself telling them to “suck it up, buttercup.” She wasn’t paying attention to their heart needs and that was causing harm. They reflected that back to her and recognizing the way she was acting was causing harm to their relationship was a painful part of her growth process. They didn’t trust her as much as she wanted them to, and they weren’t heart connected as a family. That acknowledgement brought sadness and sorrow, but it also brought humility and an opportunity for Amber to bring that to God and ask Him to help her change.

When we talk about change, growth,  and evolving, how do we grow in a healthy way, especially as single parents?
Many solo parents have faced a rocky road to get there, whether divorce, the loss of a spouse, unexpected pregnancy, or whatever it may be. The first step toward healthy growth is healing and we see this in God’s Word. We need to heal before we can grow. Hebrews 12:13 says, “Make level paths for your feet so that the lame may not be disabled but rather healed.” We can’t start at a sprint or plan to scale a mountain. After facing rocky roads, we have to think about how to move ahead thoughtfully and carefully.  We need a safe place to land, level paths that are easy to navigate, straight paths without many curves. “As much as possible, as single parents,” shares Amber, “we need to be gentle with ourselves and gentle with the growth process and start with healing.”

Robert adds, “Sometimes we want to fast track and get right into growth. We notice a problem and we want to fix it or overcome this area but one of the deficits in us is that we overlook the need to heal first”. It’s kind of like how we need to treat a dog bite. If you stitch it up immediately, the bite will become infected. It needs to be left open or the stitches will seal up any germs and make it worse. That’s the same for us. If we try to “fix” something before we let our wounds heal, we can do more damage.

Kim shares that after her divorce she was tempted to rush ahead and get into a relationship. When it didn’t work out, she felt so much worse than if she had taken time to just heal first. God reminded her that even if she never found a new husband, her life with Him and her kids was complete and good as it was, even if it didn’t look the way she dreamed or expected. That made her realize she needed to live the life she had, instead of rushing ahead. A friend encouraged her to stop trying to find a solution or a “fix” through self-help books or her own efforts but rather to read her Bible and talk to God about it. God knows our stories. He is writing these chapters and stories.

Growth happens when you start with healing. Dan Allender, therapist, author, and speaker, talks about the power of writing down your experiences as a way to heal. Community also makes a difference. Talking about your experiences and feelings helps put language to them. Neuroscience shows that verbalizing or writing down painful events helps us heal. This is one of the ways we can make level paths for our feet so we can heal first and then move toward growth.
Growth is a process. Dr. Chip Dodd shares that struggle changes us. In Genesis 32, we learn about Jacob who wrestled with an angel who represents God. The angel left Jacob lame in one leg. After that experience Jacob received a new name. The angel gave him the name, Israel, because he had wrestled with God. Struggle is an important part of our growth!

We all will face times when we are struggling and wrestling with God. Those encounters with God leave us changed and transformed. Amber shares that after her marriage hit a crisis she went into a tailspin of sadness, fear, pain, and grief. A friend and mentor suggested Celebrate Recovery and in the recovery process, she found herself wrestling with God through the hard losses she was facing. She also had the opportunity to share those struggles with a community of like-minded believers. It was difficult but it changed her. She grew so much and learned the practice of “staying in the day”, not getting stuck in the pain of the past or fear of the future but remaining present. She came out on the other side stronger and more connected to God than ever before.
Robert shares the struggle of his tumultuous divorce, being falsely accused and having his character assassinated. In that struggle, he learned how to hold his tongue. He had to learn he could remain quiet and not defend himself from every attack or lie. He grew tremendously and now knows how to detach from that emotionally. He doesn’t need to force or prove himself to be strong. Rather, strength is found in restraint.

Kim shares that her struggle was not having to fix everything but to let God handle things. She has learned to bite her tongue and that it’s okay not to be perfect. Part of her journey has been stepping away from a performance mentality and not having to please others. Even after finding healing and being remarried, struggles still exist. One of her favorite verses is John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” The Message says, “I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”

Growth isn’t something we have to do on our own. God is with us in our troubles. He will be with us, and He has overcome the world. We can live, laugh, and raise our kids. We can trust Him, and He is with us in it. We will grow as we trust Him through all of our experiences. He will expand us as we follow Him. Growth is a mindset of being present and deliberate and accepting that growth is a process. It’s not a destination. Growth includes wins and failures. It’s what we do with those things that helps us grow.

And we have to be patient with ourselves. It is a day at a time. We can’t force growth on our timetable. Just like a bonsai tree requires careful tending and lots of time, we require the same. The soil around a bonsai tree is often hard. Watering it requires adding a little bit of water at a time until the soil gets more permeable, or it all rolls off the surface. For us to absorb growth opportunities, it often takes time and care, little steps of healing, and surrender, and then growth.
It really is true that “Before we can reap a bountiful harvest, we have to first prepare the soil and get rid of weeds to make room for new growth.” If we plant seeds in rocky soil, they won’t  thrive and grow. We must have healthy soil first that has been prepared a little bit at a time to allow for a healthy harvest later.

Growth is something we can measure, not immediately but over time Success is determined by what we measure. What we measure, we pay attention to and tend. It’s not always easy to see in the moment. There are three key questions to help us reflect on growth.
1. Focus on an area of conflict and ask, “How would I have handled that a year ago?”
2. Focus on an area of connection and ask, “Who really knows me, and has it increased over the last year?”
3. Focus on an area of competence and ask, “What am I more competent in now than I was a year ago?”

Questions like this help us to have fair expectations as we assess our growth and look for healthy changes over time. We are always growing. We want to grow in healthy ways, not harmful ways.

•Healthy growth starts with healing. We have to take inventory before we can grow. We can’t fast track past the pain. We must heal first.
•Healthy growth is being present and patient in the process. Pay attention to what God is revealing and what you are learning. Be gentle with yourself as you heal and grow.
•Healthy growth is measurable. As we wrestle through the hard stuff with God, He will transform us and shape our identity. It may not be immediate, but we can look back and see areas of growth over time.

We can trust God to help us grow as we submit to Him. We can be realistic as we look for areas of growth. We can recognize it’s not a destination but rather a process, and that God is with us in it.

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