With 2016 coming to a close and a new year at our door I felt motivated to share some concepts about growing personally, spiritually and professionally. The following is a post in a series of posts that I will write about growing. I believe these principles will contribute to your creating a lifestyle of personal development. I’d also love to hear from you; anything that you’ve found helpful on your journey.
Gathering in order to Grow
I’ve found that to gather one must be open and develop an inquisitive nature. Without question there is no questing for more light. Without a sense of need and want regarding knowledge and understanding you will be left to what you have and even much of that may grow impotent. Not everyone is naturally inquisitive and hungry to grow in their understanding.
“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” – Voltaire
I find that always having a question or two or three or 5 million before me keeps me in a posture of learning. This constant gathering of information, insight or illumination provides the material needed to construct better architectures of understanding.
It’s important to note that there is a difference between honest questions and desires to grow and merely questing for information to support existing beliefs and positions. The problem of confirmation bias is troubling in the current age of political and religious fervor, insecurity fueled antagonism, info overload, AI curated social media feeds and search results. To be what I call an “honest learner” one must grow in their self-awareness.
Attending a church service years ago I found myself longing to “get closer to God.” I prayed out loud, hands lifted and with passion “God, I want to know you better.” A distinct answer was provided instantly in the form of a sudden revelation, “to grow more you need to be more honest with yourself.”
True spirituality should lead to an increase in self-awareness and an understanding of our frailty. We should have increased clarity about what we are and what we are not. This sobriety of thought can often come in moments of loss and pain, but also be held and increased with a rehearsal of the right perspective. I want to ensure that a sense of my frailty is never too far away. This keeps us compassionate, pliable and moldable. Good wisdom should increase humility not arrogance and pomp.
The story of Socrates comes to mind. He taught a powerful visual lesson to a proud young man by simply submerging his head under the water a number of times, each time after lifting his head he would ask him what he wanted. After a number of plunges the answer finally rectified in the young man, “ I need air!” Socrates brings the lesson to a close saying…
“When you want knowledge as you have just wanted air, then you will have knowledge.” – Socrates
As a personal note, I find it unfortunate that many of us have given ourselves over to laziness when it comes to thinking and learning. We give ourselves to an over-indulgence of sugary and salty entertainment or simply relegate our sense of “learning” to reading news stories (often times only the headlines or related tweets).
The type of learning and growing I am discussing here makes us better people. More feeling, more understanding – developers of higher human capacities like empathy and self-awareness. I want to be equipped with the things that lead to my building better communities, more meaningful moments, rich relationships and better futures.
Here are three questions I’ve returned that keep me open and make me more honest with myself. Found in the Scripture, oddly enough, these are questions presented to man from God. I doubt God was in need of an answer in these situations. These divine questions had the purpose of providing a transformative path for men to follow. I’m not saying these questions are all that we should be asking or may that they’l be as impactful to you as they are to me. I share them as examples of how guiding questions can help us grow.
Q1. Where are you?
This is the Lord in the book of Genesis asking a question to Adam and Eve in the garden after they had disobeyed and they were hiding from Him in shame. There they were with a new found knowledge, a guilty conscience and insecurities haunting and they here a voice… “Where are you?”
A clear sense of where we stand (even how we stand) in relationship to our world and to others provides a better footing to truly learn from. It’s important to note that this questioning led to a moment of confrontation (which is an opportunity for illumination).
Unfortunately, Adam and Eve eventually missed the chance to grow by becoming more honest with themselves and chose rather to enter into a bad line of rationalization, justification and minimization leading to further frustration. Spiritually speaking, we have to learn to love the truth (especially the kind of truth that applies to our way of being) more than we love our own life if we want to keep growing in life.
Q2. Where have you come from and where are you going?
There is a great story in Scripture of the maidservant Hagar who was being mis-treated by Sarah (Abraham’s wife). Sara was dealing with issues of infertility and because Hagar had a baby by Abraham (Ishmael), she started to grow feelings of contempt for her and mistreat her. Hagar fled from the camp frustrated and in pain.
Her flight from the protection and provision of the camp led to her and Ishmael’s life being endangered. An angel of the Lord appears to Hagar in the middle of all this pain, frustration and hurt and asks “Hagar, where have you come from and where are you going?”
This question in context is really powerful as it stops Hagar in motion that was fueled by pain and anger. So many of life’s pursuits can be powered and guided by things that will ruin us or at least undermine it’s full potential. I want to be moved by higher things, by virtues that lead to the benefit of my family and community.
What is powering us? What is fueling us? A review of where we have come from and where we are currently headed helps us to understand trajectory. We are often times not in a honest posture when pain, insecurity and or anxiety lead.
Our ability to lead is directly tied to our willingness to manage pain. – Lawrence Neisent
This principle and quote was shared with me by a great mentor and friend and I think it sums up so much of what this question hopes to accomplish. Our trajectory needs to be influenced, fueled and set by good things. Every life trajectory and course will encounter pain and how we handle this directly effects our growth in life.
Q3. What do you want?
The first words from Christ spoken to a number of disciples coming to him in the book of John might have been received with a certain amount of shock. These men came searching for Jesus because of reports about what he could do and who he was reported / believed to be. They came with anticipation and excitement and he turned to them asking “what do you seek” or what do you want? What is my guiding desire? Similar to the previous question but more pointed to what powers you, drives you as opposed to the direction itself. What are you passionate about? What is moving you to be here?
I want to be powered by a desire that is higher. I want to give myself to a noble purpose and this itself is worthy of investigation. I want to have a motive in life that includes more than my own preservation. I want my motives to be under scrutiny and be redefined and amended over time. I want to be work in progress, under construction. Being honest and open allows myself to be edited and adapted.
I believe that being on a course of growth and learning that benefits ourselves and others requires an honest pursuit and good questions. We need to stir up a sense of need and want to be more and become better. We need to discover and hold tightly to a strong sense of self that includes our frailty and the true limits of anything we regard as strength. We need to hold existing knowledge with an open hand and allow for revisions and additions from an honest footing. I sincerely hope this series of posts regarding things I’ve learned in my pursuit of a transformed life are helpful. Have a blessed Christmas season and a happy New year!