I almost quit my favorite job. People were leaving our church, morale on our staff was low, our finances were suffering, and I couldn’t see a way out of the tailspin. Now, looking back, I name it as my greatest period of growth, and I’m thankful that I managed to hold on rather than jump ship.
Think back to the times you grew the most. They probably weren’t tranquil periods—they were times of testing and discomfort. We meet our true selves in the face of adversity. We learn what we truly believe when our beliefs are tested. Here are two things I’m learning about the relationship between growth and resistance:
Nothing grows apart from stress
It’s true in every area of life. There is no growth apart from resistance. Muscles must be broken down in order to grow. Immune systems are strengthened when tested. The same is true for relationships and personal growth. In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimum Experience, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes the sweet spot of stress as a state of “flow” which exists between anxiety and boredom.
The view of suffering in Scripture is vastly different from our society’s view
A couple of passages of Scripture in the New Testament have helped me see suffering and trials in a different light.
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
These words give us a new perspective on pain and growth. A significant part of the growth process occurs through a tearing down and rebuilding process that is seldom enjoyable. James encourages us to “let perseverance finish its work” and not give in to our default response of resistance. I find myself feeling an urge to run whenever confronted with pain—to get defensive, self-justify, or displace blame. James encouraged us to do the opposite and offered us wise counsel: to “lean into it,” because that’s how we grow.
In CS Lewis’s book The Screwtape Letters, he shares a discussion between a senior and junior demon about how to persuade a person to give up.
“Let his inner resolution be not to bear whatever comes to him, but to bear it ‘for a reasonable period’—and let that reasonable period be shorter than the trial is likely to last. It need not be much shorter…the fun is to make the man yield just when (had he but known it) relief was almost in sight.”