growth

I Don't Care by Michael Nichols

Once upon a time, I found Jesus. More accurately, He found me. After spending a really long time not knowing how much I need Him, I finally saw myself for who I was, and I called out to Him in response to His call to me. That was almost seven years ago. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I knew that I didn't love, not truly. I knew that in order to love, I needed to accept His. I needed to really believe He loved me. So I did. My whole paradigm changed that day.

That doesn't mean anything else changed. I was already on a trajectory away from Him. I was on a road I didn't belong on. As an excellent Wavorly song says, "Turning around was never so hard til I found us far apart." At that point, I was really far away, heading further, and had no idea which way to turn. Imagine yourself lost on a dark night with a broken light and a broken compass, and nothing but two ears and a voice guiding you home. Even better: imagine yourself in the Millennium Falcon, crashing toward Starkiller Base, unable to pull up, not knowing the defector storm trooper was a janitor and new nothing about blowing the place up.

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I had no idea what was in store. I really didn't. I knew things would be difficult, but I had no clue of the depth of it. I don't remember being as bombarded with temptations and heartaches as when I started following Christ. Yet I don't know that I've seen more personal growth happen in me than when I started following Christ.

I'm not going to blather on about all the things that happened between 2009 and 2013. If you've read my blog before, you know. If you want to know, read it.

In one respect, I'm glad for how far I've come, but it hasn't been without cost. That cost has been my ability to care.

I don't care.

Those are three words no one wants to hear. "I don't care" is giving up. On what? Anything.

Have you been told that before? It hurts, doesn't it? Knowing that you're not seen, not heard, invisible, inconsequential.

I hate that about me, which is great because that means all hope is not lost. But right now, that's a problem. The whole reason I decided to follow Jesus was so I could love, not so I could withhold love in apathy.

I'm not sure entirely how I figured it out, but I suddenly noticed lately how much of what has been happening in my life indicates that I don't really care.

The stagnancy of my romantic relationships?

Because I didn't care about anything beyond the moment, escaping the rest of my life.

My lack of reading scriptures or praying in a meaningful way?

Because I didn't care about anything beyond the moment, escaping the rest of my life.

My isolation from people I claim to care for?

Because I didn't care about anything but my own problems.

My inability to focus long enough to do successful studio takes?

Because I didn't care about them as much as I care about the things distracting me.

My inability to loosen up?

Because I don't care enough about living healthily enough to stop obsessing over the things I want.

My jealousy?

Because I don't care about much else than what I want.

Why I don't try hard enough to change any of this?

Because I don't care to keep failing or hurting, which is, by default, keeping anything good from coming of anything I'm going through.

I don't want to run away from my issues, but I also don't want to run into a worse place. Another song, by Linkin Park this time, says, "Sometimes I think of letting go and never looking back, and never moving forward so there'd never be a past."

Relatable? Too much.

Good way to live? Not ever.

The irony of the whole thing is that we tend to stop caring because of the weight that caring becomes. But to stop caring means your heart has to stop working, and if your heart stops working, you really can't go anywhere. You collapse. You stay where you are. You die.

When you stop caring, you are dead. And it definitely feels the part. At least pain lets you know you're alive, even though it means you're fighting to stay that way. When joy happens, you know you're alive and free.

That's what I think is so powerful about the "joy of salvation" that people talk about. Not only are you alive, not only are you free, but you are now set on a path of becoming more like Christ until His coming, when everything corruptible in us will be replaced with something incorruptible, and we enter eternal life and eternal freedom, where all darkness ends and the light only grows, extending into every corner of creation. It's unstoppable. It's unstoppable good, unstoppable beauty, unstoppable life.

That's something that's actually worth caring about. When we lose sight of that, it's not hard to stop caring about things, especially the more we know about evil and hurt.

I guess that's what I've been missing. With something lasting to care about, whatever else is valuable to us, whatever else brings joy, although temporary, finally gains its true meaning. We finally have a reason to care about it.

A reason to care about him.

About her.

About anyone, anything.

But without context to something eternal, how can anything temporary have meaning?

"Our light affliction, which only lasts for a moment, is working toward an eternal glory that far outweighs anything else. That's why we look not on the things that can be seen, but the things that cannot be seen. Why? Because the things we can see are temporary, but the things we cannot see are eternal." --Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 paraphrase mine)

Accuser Within by Michael Nichols

I've always struggled with risks. I think everyone does, though maybe not as much as others. If I know that there is something to be lost, I don't want to. Don't we all? Whether we acknowledge it consciously or not, we realize that we contain infinite value, endowed upon us by Jesus. We also experience fear when we're confronted with the possibility of loss. Everyone's looks different. Some people are afraid to take risks on career ventures. Others hate the idea of moving away and facing the unknown in that respect. My issue is with relationships, specifically the dating kind.

I'm not the only who has been hurt. I'm not the only one who has been scared. I'm not the only one who gets tripped up on words or will altogether avoid words when nothing seems sufficient enough to make enduring the fear worthwhile.

Unfortunately, inaction, in my case, has led to much, much more pain than action. You know, at least if you get shot down, you know you can change direction. And there can be a lot of reasons for being shot down other than it being, you know, your fault, something you did, something you are, heck, how you look.

But wait! How can you experience pain if you don't take a risk?

I'll tell you.

You see, it's equally as big a risk, if not bigger, to assume that something bad could come from your action, as it is to assume that something good could come from your inaction. I say this not to perpetuate the "follow your heart" mentality that has led modern day culture into a morally relativistic decadence, but holding back what's inside of you because you're afraid you might get hurt is like holding onto fire. You don't get used to it the more you hold it: you simply burn what's left of you the longer you hold it.

You're not protecting your heart by not telling people how you feel. You're actually poisoning it. You can always get back up from rejection, but you can't move past a choice you never made. I've avoided making a lot of those choices, and none of them have made living with the regret of what I might have missed any easier. I can think of a few instances in the not-so-distant past when I could have just told a person how much I cared for them, or let them see more of my real self, let go and just had fun with amazing people, but I didn't. I treated my insecurities as though they were for my benefit, like they could save me from being broken.

In reality, all I did was break myself before I let anyone else get to me.

What really eats at me is that every time, at least for the past several years, I've told myself I would stop avoiding what's inside of me, quit copping out of making the choices that I had to make. "This time" I'll say how I feel. After all, that's all I can do, right? After all, I have no control over what she does with that knowledge, right? And I haven't actually lost anything more than an idea, because until the feelings go both ways, I'm not actually "in love" with a person, right? And it's their problem if they can't get over the fact I might have feelings for them, even if I can get over them myself, right? So knowing all of that should make opening up easier, right?

I haven't. Not once.

Even as I speak these things, I realize I'm just finding more reasons to blame myself, as a dear mentor and friend recently put forth to me. And she was right. I'm not doing this for my own good, at least not anymore. Just the habit of repressing the person that God made you to be, even if you don't acknowledge that you're actually doing that, leads to the belief that God doesn't want good things for you, that you are beyond His love, His grace, a second chance, and that you might not even have any value at all.

Guess what. It's a lie. Your very existence, not to mention the whole truth and message of the gospel, is proof of that.

We all torment ourselves over something, but if it isn't making you a better person, it's not worth it. Whatever you're tormenting yourself over--and it doesn't have to be fear of rejection--isn't worth your time, your breath, your life, if it is a barricade preventing you from growing into the person God made you to be in Christ.

Easier said than done, right?

It's a good thing we have a powerful God going before us. Just trust that. Trust Him. Take a risk. Even if it doesn't turn out the way you wanted it to, let Him carry you to the place He wants you to be, and trust that this place will be a beautiful one.

Growth in the Spirit -- Fruitful by Michael Nichols

If you've got something good going on, you'll want to make more of it, right? Look at the very screen on which these words are "printed," and you will see a prime example of something good: technology. Digital, mechanical, whatever -- technology is one of the greatest things we have. It makes life simpler, faster, more efficient. We spend less time in the means and more time in the end -- well, I suppose this wouldn't be true for facebook junkies like myself... ANYWAYS.

The point is just that technology has been something that has grown since day one. We've always looked for an easier, more efficient way of doing things, and that's okay. In fact, it's great. Instead of setting aside weeks to travel on foot, the world can be cross in a day. Awesome? I think so. Less wasted time doing the intermediate stuff? Fantastic! Taking airplanes, cars, and bicycles to your destination has caught on with such force. Rarely in our corner of the world do you see horse and buggy travelling interstate distances. Why? Because it made sense to use new technology instead, so they rolled with it. They made more, the demand went up, and both the supply and demand have fed each other ever since.

So when you start growing in your life, what happens? Well, you see the benefit. A new way of life, some kind of change, may give you a new perspective, a different level of appreciation for what you have and what you don't, and whom. No longer are you a dormant seed, but you've sprouted into something different, bigger, changing, branching out, integrating into the world around you, and even shaping it. You provide shade from the sun, security for the ground, and food for wildlife... and you bear fruit.

What is fruit? It's seeds buried in nutrients. Think of an apple. It's meat and core right? And when the seeds finally hit the ground and become buried, once they've received warmth and nourishment, BAM! -- up springs new life where once there was none. Is it not a miracle?

The Bible has numerous passages about the "fruit of the Spirit," list off different things that indicate genuine spiritual growth. "Love, joy, peace, patience," are among these. One of the passages (Galatians 5) also lists "works of the flesh." Why? Because when we're trying to grow spiritually, we are also at war with the impulses of our flesh. One part of us only is sensitive to what we crave, and that's what we call the flesh. When we begin thinking spiritually, though, things start to change. You start to see what come from you rather than only what you want to consume. And why is this so? Because God doesn't want us to hurt ourselves, nor each other. He gave us life, and it wasn't meant to end.

We were made good, and we were commanded to be fruitful and multiply, and I have a feeling that purpose may have been in a spiritual sense, even though His immediate command was more literal. The Scriptures say that God "withholds no good thing from us," so He's not going to hold us back if we're trying to grow. He will be that "river of water" that David talks about in Psalm 1, that feeds us and makes us grow. Sure, along the way, weeds might grow up around us, we might run into rocks, and birds might circle to try to eat us up, all of which happens to ensure that we don't grow.

A lot of times, our growth is hindered. It can be by the environment around us, or the sin nature within us. Regardless of which is true, if stagnancy is propagating, don't be afraid to check your source. See where your water is coming from. Is it clean water, or is it polluted? In today's society, people tend to act as though social, psychological, and behavioral pollution does not exist, but they are just as dangerous and real as polluted water, and we're all victims of it. The question is: when we see it, how can we not do something about it, let alone deny the reality of it?

The great thing is that a lack of growth, nor a difficult circumstance, isn't powerful enough to altogether stop growth from happening, and it definitely cannot stop God from giving you strength to grow more! Remember the parable of the sower? I mentioned it in PROLOGUE. I've been wondering if it ties into another parable, about the wheat and the weeds (see Matthew 13.) In fact, these two parables are in the exact same passage. In short, weeds begin infesting a crop of wheat, and the harvesters want to uproot the weeds so that they don't hinder the growth of the weeds, but the master (hint, hint, Jesus) says not to uproot them so that the wheat is not uprooted with the weeds. The heart of this parable is: He's watching over you.

He's got a plan, and He's not going to let weeds win out over what He's sown in the end. They won't stop your growth, and they won't get in the way of the end result. They may wrap around you, and they may crowd you, and they may even sap strength from the soil that surrounds you, but they cannot stop you because the sower is watching over you, and He is faithful.

Growth in the Spirit -- Roots and Shoots by Michael Nichols

When a seed finally receives enough warmth and water, it can finally start growing, but when it does, it always grows in two directions. It grows shoots and roots. The little stem pops out from the ground, beneath a surface that appears only one-sided.

While we admire the outward beauty and fragility, the leaves absorbing the sunlight and the carbon dioxide in the air, beneath the surface, a whole different world is springing -- or maybe digging would be a better word -- to life. Beneath the surface, from the same seed, have sprouted roots, and even though they remain unseen by the surface world, they serve a purpose much... hehehe... deeper than we know.

Roots are dirty and damp, taking in nutrients from dead plants and wildlife, all through the medium of water. Aside from that water, roots, essentially are mingled in death. Depth and darkness are it's home. You're probably thinking, "Wow, this is getting gloomy." Well, it kind of is. Turn back now if you don't like gloom, but I promise you that something good will come of it.

Roots can be fibrous, branching out every which way beneath the ground. They can be fibrous, one massive root burrowing directly downward to find the best possible source of water. They can be bulbous or tuborous, like a potato or an onion, with tiny roots feeding one massive root-ish thing. How does that relate to spiritual growth? Well, do you learn things by tapping into one main source of wisdom, or do you have a diverse, complex social system from which you attain life? From where do you gain your depth, and what is that depth feeding? Are you a potato, whose depth fosters a centralized depth? Are you taproot that looks for one super deep source of knowledge? Are you fibrous, finding wisdom in the little things, the diverse things, a little bit closer to the surface yet not foreign to the concept of depth?

Taking things a little further, how does this depth show? What do people see? How do you breathe? How do you let the byproducts of your growth out? Eventually, growth will force old things out. Eventually, nutrients and old, damaged, decayed parts go away to be broken down, recycled into the dirt, back into their primary building blocks, yet again to be used as nutrients for new, growing beings. The same goes for us. As our minds expand, old ideas are expelled from our minds, ideas we now see didn't work as well as we initially thought, ideas that weren't built to last, behaviors that could not be maintained.

It's okay if you aren't the most outgoing person, or if the span of your growth doesn't always breach the surface like an oak tree. Maybe you show up more like grass, something small, but nonetheless valuable. People will recognize that, and people who know what growth looks like will be able to see if your growth is being hindered by some external force. Maybe the dirt is eroding beneath you, or maybe you're not seeing enough sunlight. Maybe the brighter side of life hasn't met your eyes as often as would be condusive to your growth, to your thriving in life, and that isn't always up to you. Not always can the plant be blamed for the ground in which it was sown.

In the very end the reason for all of this interaction between different parts of this social-spiritual biosphere we're in is this: grow up, and make more -- or it might be appropriate to say this: "Be fruitful, and multiply." I'm taking that phrase way out of context, but think about it! Jesus compared our spiritual lives so many times to something agricultural, in one specific instance, seeds. Not only He, but David the king, made mention of someone following the paths of righteousness being "like a tree planted by the rivers of water, which brings forth his fruit in his season." So what is this "fruit," and how do we bring it forth?

NEXT: "FRUITFUL"

Growth in the Spirit -- Prologue by Michael Nichols

A few days ago, I was out with a friend of mine. We have been friends since elementary school, and even though he moved away by the time my middle school years were upon me, somehow, we kept in touch. We really reconnected about a year or so ago, when he moved back to Kentucky for a while.

We caught up. Not much about this guy had changed, but he is a different sort of dude. I suppose I expected more change than I saw, but my expectations are of no consequence. Everyone progresses at a different rate. Sometimes, it is more difficult for some to grow in their life.

One way that I noticed his growth was in a spiritual sense. It wasn't something that I noticed his expressing interest before then, not that the subject of angels, heaven, and the typical, hadn't come up in the past. After all, we were in elementary school back then. But this time, things were a bit different. He had struggled with life issues that made him think a little bit more about the deeper side of things. It was great to see this, especially given how much of a revolution God raised up within me during our time of separation.

Anyways, back to the story from a few days ago -- somehow, the subject of his faith journey had come up in conversation. Within this conversation, he mentioned how much he enjoyed camping, and how relaxing it is. There is something about nature that is, well, naturally stimulating yet simultaneously calming, and in a way much different from how we do it within our busy twenty-first centuries lifestyles.

This has prompted me to remember that the writers of the Bible often used agriculture as a way of expressing the growth of an individual. David, in fact, kicked off the fake-book of the Bible (the Psalms, that is -- a music book, not a fraudulent one, in case anyone isn't familiar with the terminology,) with a comparison of "the righteous" to "a tree planted by the rivers of water, which brings for its fruit in its season" (Psalm 1.) In this way, like when we go camping, David takes us right back into the wild, into the way the world was built before we layered things atop it. Does he detail the internal functions of a tree? Psht, no! but by showing how the tree drinks up the water, causing it to flourish and "be fruitful," he definitely gets his point across.

Is this far from the truth? Hardly! I think it's dead on. I'll talk about this more this week -- nothing formal, but just a few thoughts about how we can see this lived out.