A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The Growth Struggle

by Joy Cowley

The life journey on this earth is also one of spiritual growth, and we know that tension is a requirement.

Growth through the tension of opposite states is a condition of nature.

Let us think about that for a moment.

At this time of the year, we see trees bursting into leaf.

The smooth branch ruptures to produce buds that become leaves and blossom.

In this, the tree is also increasing in size. But it can’t grow without this breaking, bursting, rupturing.

Likewise, we see a tender plant, like a buttercup or a toadstool, that has pushed its way through concrete or an asphalt pavement in response to the urge to grow.

Spiritually, we do the same. We grow towards the light of God, and while that growth is glorious, it is not without struggle. In spiritual terms, our struggle is in the context of our hunger for God.

St Paul knew this struggle well. In Corinthians 2, chapter 12, he talks about his weakness and how he prayed to be rid of it. But the Lord said, “My grace is enough for you; my power is at its best in weakness.”

When St Paul realised that the poverty of his weakness was actually the open doorway to God’s grace, he came to this conclusion. “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

That was his hymn to imperfection.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta put it another way. When a journalist asked her why she chose to work with the destitute and dying, her answer shocked him. She said, “I do it to combat the Hitler in me.”

When we look around us, we realise that nothing in nature is perfect. Nothing is complete or without flaw. Everything is in a state of becoming, or in a state of decaying to become something else.

Yet in human consciousness there is something that constantly aspires to perfection. It’s like a little compass needle in us, always pointing to true North. So where did this knowledge of perfection come from?

At one time, it was thought that it related back to a blissful time in the womb. Now we know that our time in the womb is far from perfect. It has moments of tension, stress, trauma.

So why do we have this kind of spiritual instinct for perfection? I like to think that it comes from our pre-conception state. I call it the God gene.

One of the Church Fathers describes it as the kiss of God given to our souls before we are set on our human journey.

But paradoxically, the way to the perfection of God’s embrace, is through a celebration of the human journey, all of it, and being fully human means entering the struggle and making friends with our shadow, that part of ourselves that we would rather reject.

It is the shadow that is our growing space.

As we get older, faith tends to get simpler and if you were to ask me what I believe, I’d probably say something like this: We come from God and we return to God and our little time here in Life School is for the growth of the soul.

We are given every teacher and lesson we need and if we fail a text or exam, that’s okay, it will be given to us again, and again, until we learn from it and move on.

Life school is not easy, but it is made glorious because Jesus walks it with us.   

This article was first published in CathNews NZ Pacific, www.cathnews.co.nz
It is used with permission.

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