Embracing the Pain of Process

Man at the sunrise

The best things in life undergo a process. Whether it’s chili slowly stewing in a crockpot until all the ingredients meld together into the perfect harmony of flavors, or a film working its way from a spark of inspiration to a story board and eventually a masterpiece of cinematic sound, emotion and imagery. Even a human life being knit together cell by cell in the womb, birthed and then raised minute by minute, day by day, year by year into adulthood and beyond.

Process takes time though. And it’s often difficult. Maybe not as much with chili….but raising children? Definitely. Walking out what we feel God has called us to? Absolutely. It can be tempting to rush the process, to search for shortcuts. In fact, our world today revolves around shortcuts. We are so busy running from one place to the next physically and mentally that we pounce on any convenience that claims to increase our efficiency. Microwaves, drive-thrus, instant everything and every sort of productivity app guaranteed to make us more efficient at doing whatever it is we deem important. The pursuit of packing more punch into each and every day is endless.

It’s no surprise, then, that we often also attempt to rush the process of what God is forming in and through us. Constant comparisons on social media cause us to feel as though life is behind schedule. So we frantically try to accomplish more. Or to at least give the appearance that we are making the most of our lives by strategically posting carefully crafted images online for the world to wonder at. And we often succeed in our deception, only to perpetuate those same feelings of falling short in those around us as they view our own digital highlight reel. Yet we’re no closer to actually changing the world than we were before. Not only do we dream of changing the world, we hope to do it at a remarkably young age. To be 30 and unknown feels like failure. We mistakenly measure success by resumes and ratings rather than that which is intangible and internal. We look for shortcuts and ways to forcibly open doors of opportunity.

What we don’t realize is that many of the people we compare ourselves to have been through, or are currently in their own process. We see the fully formed plant blossoming above ground but are completely unaware of the root system hidden beneath the dirt. Or how long that root system took to form. Or the pain of their process. Plants can’t survive without a root system. Roots are necessary for nourishment and growth. They keep the plant from washing away in a storm. You can snip that rose from the bush but it will only survive a few days without being grafted into a life-giving root system.

There is a process familiar to gardeners called cold-stratifictation. In this process seeds are nicked or scratched in order to allow the cold and moisture of the winter season to penetrate their hard, outer shells. Seeds that have undergone this process are often able to be planted in the fall instead of spring, allowing their roots to grow below the earth’s surface during the stagnant winter months. When the ground thaws these plants have a head start on their spring-planted counterpart. In fact, without this nicking process some seeds will never move out of dormancy in order to bloom.

In the same way, the winter seasons of our lives in which we feel nothing is growing or moving forward and we feel anxious to get where we’re going, God is actually working in us the depth of character needed to sustain what he is calling us to step into. As the sun returns, the winter snow that frustrated us with hiddenness and stagnancy melts to become the water needed to catapult the thirsty seedling’s fragile face upwards through soil and into the daylight. The inner strength formed in winter’s blizzards, the character built through months of dormancy, and the foundation that remained unshaken for the previous season are the nourishment necessary to take us into the next season.

Are you willing to be nicked or scratched and go through the winter so you can be watered and bloom in the spring? Or do you remain hard and dormant? Without going through the process God has set in motion we will never fully mature and any “success” we experience in life will be tainted and short-lived with the potential to destroy us.

Learn to love the process. Learn to love the sometimes painful processes God uses to awaken us from dormancy and cause us to bloom. Comfortable situations rarely inspire growth. The point at which we feel stretched beyond our comfort zone is the moment we begin to grow. Muscle fibers must tear in order to grow stronger. Our bones must bear weight to gain strength. Our physical bodies are designed to experience discomfort in order to grow stronger and our mind, will and emotions are no exception. No pain, no gain.

Yet there is a beautiful freedom found in the bright light of God’s grace. There is a different kind of comfort found in Him. As he gently uproots all of our old mindsets, dysfunctions, and brokenness it can feel uncomfortable or even painful. We may feel embarrassed as he reveals immaturity, pride, selfishness or insecurity in our hearts. But if we know his heart we know we can trust him to put us back together again. He never shames us. He never condemns us. We can submit to him heart, mind and soul, trusting that he doesn’t look at our surrender and insufficiency with disdain or disgust but instead as an opportunity to be strong in our weakness.

He is sufficient for everything we lack. And he knows not just what we need to become successful, but who we need to become.

 

Monday Morning Resolutions

New YearEvery year around this time people joke about how the gym is really full for the first few weeks of the year and then it eventually tapers off. This is pretty telling of how successful our New Years resolutions are. We start off strong. Motivated by the promise of a new beginning and the hope of changing our lives for the better or slimming down for summer. But then life happens. We get busy. We get sick. We get bored. Or it’s just too much work. We may miss a day, then a few days, then a week and before we know it it’s July and we’ve gained 3 lbs.

I’ve never been one to make New Years resolutions, because I can’t say I’ve ever seen someone’s life actually change by making them. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great to vow to ourselves that we will change. It’s wonderful to reflect on the previous year and decide how we want the coming one to be different. However, I think most of us would agree that New Year’s resolutions are largely ineffective.

So why do we fool ourselves with these often lofty, life-changing goals?  Sometimes we just need a re-do after a bummer of a year. It feels good to say “Buh-bye!” to a disappointing 12 months with the hope of a better dozen ahead.  When the rubber meets the road though, many of us bend, buckle, and then break those resolutions.

A resolution is a great starting point. It’s a decision. The first step. It’s the recognition that something about us or in our life needs to change. Failing to recognize that at all is surely more detrimental than falling back on those decisions. The problem is that we tend to think that a one-time decision is enough to transform us.

Generally this isn’t true. We’re transformed when we are disciplined enough to make that same decision day in and day out.  A wise sage named Jillian Michaels once said, “Transformation is not a future activity, it is a current event.”  True transformation is the product of daily reminding ourselves of the decisions we’ve made. You might call it discipline.

So what happens when we inevitably fail at some point or another? This is where I think New Year’s resolutions are particularly ineffective. The implication is that each year we will make them and if or when we break them (or forget about them completely) we can always try again next year.

I think what people enjoy about New Years is the idea of a fresh start. A clean slate. We can simply put the previous year behind us and start over again. I’ve said before that I’m an “all or none” kind of person and so, unfortunately if I fail in May, January 1 is a long time to wait for a new beginning.

So this year I’ve decided to make one New Year Resolution and that is that I will make “Monday Morning Resolutions.” Every Monday is a new chance to start fresh.  If I don’t make it to the gym at all one week, I can just start back up again on Monday. Even if I fail for a few weeks I can treat Monday morning like a clean slate. It’s not about how many times you fall, it’s about how quickly you get back up.  Will it be the start of a new week? Or the start of a new year?

When we fail at something we tend feel guilt. Guilt is a terrible motivator. The fear of failure might work for a while, but eventually we end up just feeling awful about ourselves which is quite uninspiring and discouraging. But when we give ourselves the grace of a clean slate each week we’ll be far more likely to see lasting change.  Not to mention that God’s mercies are new every morning and if we actually lived like we believed that we’d probably be a lot happier and motivated to get back up again quicker.

Cheers to a new year and a new week and new mercies!