An interesting thing about homeschooling is having a front row seat to the kids’ learning process. The impulse for humans to resist challenges and fall back on the comfortable and easy is incredibly universal.

We can’t grow muscles unless we push our bodies past their comfort level. We can’t increase our knowledge of a subject without exposing ourselves to ideas that challenge what we already know. Our skills won’t improve if we refuse to try hard things.

I’ve grown increasingly aware that our spiritual growth follows a similar pattern. Our faith can’t grow if we never have an area of our lives in which we MUST trust God to come through. If we only put ourselves in situations where we are safe and “in control,” then our faith is not in God but in ourselves.

"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain." John 12:24 NKJV - quote set against a green background with a plant growing.

Growth without the growing pains

I’ve often heard people reflect with amazement that those who have the strongest faith are often the ones who have faced abnormally difficult circumstances. We notice that trend as if it is a mystery, but why would that surprise us? We are told this so many times throughout Scripture.

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, [being] much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,”

1 Peter 1:6-7 NKJV

We are too often astounded at the examples of those who trust God through adversity. We claim that we want to be more like them, while simultaneously building our lives to avoid the circumstances that made them who they are. I don’t suggest we should seek out suffering, but if we are always comfortable and safe it may be time to ask why.

Are we comfortable because we are especially blessed by God? Or are we comfortable because we’ve given our lives to the idols of wealth and security? We go to extreme measures to avoid discomfort or pain, and then wonder why we experience stagnation rather than growth. How do we expect to grow without growing pains?

Do we actually have faith in God or ourselves?

We cushion ourselves from hardship and discomfort and then claim to be people of faith. Faith in what? Do we have faith in God? Or is our faith really in our insurance, stable job, 401k plan, savings account, “safe” neighborhood and “good” school?

Just as hope that is seen is not real hope (Romans 8:24), having “faith” that God is in control while also refusing to relinquish any control of our lives is not real faith. We focus all of our energy on reaching a level of self-sufficiency to feel like we’ve “made it” in life. Meanwhile we let our lives pass without growing spiritually.

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have [its] perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

James 1:2-4 NKJV

We aren’t done yet.

Just as I teach this lesson over and over to the kids, I have to continually hear for myself as well. The desire to remain comfortable is strong. Even when we know that growing pains are necessary, we instinctively fight against them.

The last year has been difficult for so many people. We’ve had to learn new rhythms and adapt to rapidly-changing circumstances. But it’s also been a good year for learning. I’m learning to be more comfortable with unknowns and sit with hard questions rather than rushing to make a decision. I hold my opinions and my possessions with a looser grip. Hopefully I am listening better. Slowly, I am even learning to let go of the compulsion to maintain control over how others see me. I am certainly not there yet – there is much growing still to be done.

But there is peace in accepting that we aren’t done yet. In realizing that the Christian walk is one of constantly renewing our minds and stepping forward in faith when we aren’t sure of the next move. There is freedom in trusting God to complete the work He started in us, rather than trying so hard to pretend like we’ve already arrived.

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing [I do], forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.

Philippians 3:12-15 (NKJV)