I’ve never had much of a green thumb.
I grew impatiens last year, which was easy enough and went well until the summer heat got to be too much. I once “raised” an air fern, inasmuch as I mostly looked at it a lot and left it alone. And for a brief while I was the guardian of three cacti, one of which my cat ate (in its entirely – needles included!) and somehow survived.
So when my husband got two tiny pots of ivy for me as a little surprise at the beginning of this year, I greeted the purchase with a determination not to get too attached. I put them on the windowsill in my kitchen, watered them when they needed it, and waited for them to die.
Except they didn’t. They grew. And grew. And grew.
Two months in, pleased by their tenacity, I named them. Four months in, I had to repot them from their original containers. And now…well, now I’m going to have to repot them again because they’ve gotten enormous. Snaking vines are everywhere: dropping down from the window to curl around my kitchen faucet, choking the wheatgrass we got for the cat to nibble on, roaming up the cabinets.
And it’s funny how unruly the growth is. I expected it to happen gradually, if it happened at all, but it seems like every day there’s more vine with no idea of where it wants to go. They spread out in all directions, directionless themselves, falling into and onto whatever happens to be nearest.
Growth is good. And lots of growth is great! But it can also outpace us. If we’re not careful, in times of growth, everything can get out of our control.
In the Christian life, growth is always the goal. We always want to be actively engaged in our spiritual lives: to be continually closer to be God, to be learning, to be modeling Christ’s behavior, to be evolving. And there will be periods when we grow less, and periods where we grow more, and periods where we are growing in leaps and bounds.
In those periods of great spiritual growth, I encourage you to stay mindful and reflective. To keep an eye on yourself. And to stay humble and open. Because although we tend to associate spiritual danger and temptations and darkness with a lack of growth, they can lurk in the presence of it, too.
Times of spiritual growth can tempt us into inflated egos and hollow self-righteousness: those times when we feel so good that we get it – that we’re doing it right – that we don’t understand why other people don’t get it and why they’re not doing it right. We can be in danger of treating others as inferior, as less-than.
Spiritual growth can tempt us into becoming Pharisees, people who measure our value not in God’s grace but in everything that we do or accomplish. It can make lecturers of us, lead us into belittling or condemning others who haven’t figured out everything that we think we have. We can fall into the trap of believing we’re responsible for our own spiritual state, rather than acknowledging that God’s grace is what saves us from our spiritual state.
Spiritual growth can blind us to the problems we do have, leading us into a dangerous space where we are particularly vulnerable to temptation and to the sort of sin that can turn a period of growth into a long slog back from the wilderness.
And spiritual growth can lead to burnout as we exult in our ability and desire to do every single little thing we can possibly do, spinning all our newfound understanding and energy in every direction without ever getting the rest that God commands us to take.
I’m beyond delighted by the rampant growth of my ivy. As I approach the prospect of repotting them yet again, I’ve realized that I’m going to have to pick up a little trellis or a lattice too – and that, once I get it, I’m going to have to gently guide my vines so that they can grow in a proper direction. As Christians, we’d be wise to approach our own periods of spiritual growth in the same way: not reveling in them, not becoming lost in the concepts of achievement or accomplishment, but rather keeping a wary eye to what we need to stake down, what we need to train and guide, and how to keep our growth on an upward trajectory while our hearts remain firmly rooted in the knowledge of precisely how our relationship to God works and by what grace we function.
Since the Bible tells us that pride precedes destruction (Prov. 16:18), let us be particularly aware of and on guard in those moments when our growth might lead us to it.
I’ll be notifying the winner of my book giveaway today! Once chosen, I’ll mail the book ASAP.