Personal growth can be really exciting and fun and enlightening and freeing and peaceful. I have seen a lot of that side. I love that side.
But I have also seen a lot of the other side – the side that is painful and agonizing and laborious and difficult. The side that leaves me crying and asking myself “why even try?” After experiencing another one of these unpleasant episodes, I was sitting on my bed asking the question “why is personal growth so hard?” And after consulting God, my heart, and the internet, this is what I came up with…
Ignorance is bliss.
It’s easier to just stay where I am comfortable, doing the things that I know how to do. It’s easier to just be mediocre. It requires a lot less work. Figuring out my weaknesses takes a lot of time and energy and digging and deep introspection. And discovering them is only the beginning. After that discovery, I then have to muster up the courage to admit my mistakes and shortcomings and then dive in and go to work. And I often don’t know what I’m doing – when it comes to working on my weaknesses, and also when it comes to using my strengths. It can be pretty uncomfortable.
Sometimes things get worse before they get better.
I don’t know much about lifting weights (I should work on that), but from what I understand, muscles get big by carefully overworking them. They get little microscopic tears and if you properly care for them (not overdoing it too much, getting rest in between, etc.) then they actually come back bigger and stronger. When you wake up with sore muscles, it can be easy to think “why did I do this to myself? I was doing just fine before. Are bigger and stronger muscles even worth it?”
I believe that a similar experience happens with mental, emotional, and spiritual growth. We have wounds and weaknesses that have been buried deep, under years and layers of trying to avoid the pain. Digging these up is necessary because you can’t heal if you don’t know don’t address the problem. Bringing these issues to the surface, out of the shadows, and shedding light on them is what allows them to get the attention that they need to heal. It’s painful. But you can come back bigger and stronger.
I have noticed that when I am going through a more intense personal growth phase, I am more susceptible to picking fights (with J, with my kids). I think it’s because my internal boat is being rocked. Things are changing inside me. And I don’t quite know how to deal with the internal upheaval. In those moments I am trying to just hold on and desperately grab for any validation and support (those desperate attempts often aren’t pretty). I just have to keep riding the waves and wait for things to settle at the new normal. Unfortunately I’m not a very graceful surfer.
If for a while the harder you try, the harder it gets, take heart. So it has been with the best people who ever lived.
(Jeffrey R. Holland)
Old habits die hard.
Sometimes it is easy to feel like a fraud and to fall into the shame traps of “What am I doing? Who do I think I am? Why do I keep making the same mistakes? Why do I keep hurting the people that I love? Why can’t I just get it together and use the tools that I have learned?”
Jody talks a lot about how we need to not be so hard on ourselves when we make mistakes – especially when it comes to trying to improve and turn a weakness into a strength. She says that you should have compassion for yourself and just approach the situation with curiosity instead of shame, thinking, “Isn’t it interesting that I made that mistake again? I am really good at that. I want to change and not do that anymore, but I shouldn’t expect it to happen overnight”.
The bad habits/weaknesses that I have, have come from a lot of practicing. I have practiced making that certain mistake (or thinking that certain way) over and over and over again. I am really good at it. I might even be a master (10,000 hours) at it. Of course I don’t want to make that mistake. I want to change. I want to be better. But I need to have some compassion and understanding for myself and realize that change takes time. Just keep practicing. When I fall, get back up and try again. Overtime, and with a lot of practice, I will become a master at the new and improved way. My weakness will become a strength.
I am here to strive for perfection, but simultaneously be understanding and compassionate of my imperfections and realize that perfection comes line upon line. It’s a fine balance and I don’t always do it well.
Growth is often imperceptible.
Growth is slow. It takes time. And when I am in the middle of the process it may seem like I haven’t changed or improved at all. It may feel like I am putting in all this work and energy for nothing. But when I allow some time to go past, and I look back, I can see that my life actually has changed. I actually have grown and improved. This is actually one good reason for keeping a journal. Reading past journal entries allows me to see my growth.
Satan wants me to fail.
Satan doesn’t like forward progress. He doesn’t want me to succeed. He doesn’t want my weaknesses to become strengths. And he doesn’t want me to use my strengths to build up the kingdom of God. He wants me to say “why even try?” He wants me to get discouraged. He wants me to give up.
Well, I’m not going to. Take that, Satan!
I still love the pleasant side of personal growth – the exciting, fun, enlightening, freeing and peaceful side. But I’m learning that the other side – the painful, agonizing, laborious and difficult side is important too. You can’t have a breakthrough without confusion. You can’t have peace without a storm. You can’t have birth without death. You can’t have morning without night.
I want to end with this story from when I was in college. When I was a freshmen, I lived with my cousin, M. We were really good friends before college, but unfortunately we had kind of a rough year together and when it came time to sign up for a new apartment for sophomore year, we decided to go different directions. I felt drawn to living at University Villa, where my sister had lived a few years before. Originally M and C thought about living there too (we were thinking about being roommates) but C’s roommates didn’t want to. I was really nervous about stepping out of my comfort zone and moving in with people that I didn’t know but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was supposed to live at the Villa. So in the fall of 2007, I moved into a ghetto apartment with 3 girls that I hadn’t ever met before and M moved in with C (our other cousin) and her roommates.
September 2, 2007
“I went over to M and C’s apartment yesterday and it’s nicer than mine. A part of me wished that I was living with them. I would be back in my comfort zone and my apartment would be in better condition. But I know that I need this. I need to be on my own. I need to step out of my comfort zone. I need to become more social. I need to rely on the Lord. It is amazing that when I read the scriptures and listen to uplifting music, it invites the spirit and I know that everything will be just fine. I will get used to everything, we will clean our apartment up and I will meet a lot of amazing people. I may not be living with M and C, but they aren’t far away. I am sure that I will see them all the time. I am not alone. The Lord is always with me and He will not leave me comfortless. I need to be still and know that He is God. Last night the words of a hymn kept coming to mind. “Fear not, I am with thee, oh be not afraid, For I am thy God and will still give thee aid.” I know that I can trust in the Lord and everything will be just fine.”
I remember that as I was writing in my journal that morning, I was listening to music on my phone. A song by Jericho Road came on called You Melt the Madness. I had never really paid attention to it before, but for some reason the music and words of this song really hit me at this moment. It brought the spirit and I could feel the comforting power of the Holy Ghost. I knew that everything was going to be ok.
I still listen to this song when I am feeling down. It always makes me feel better.
That choice to step out of my comfort zone and move to University Villa by myself wasn’t always easy. I experienced a lot of growth that year, and some of it wasn’t pleasant. But it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made before. Because that apartment complex was where I met J. 🙂