A reflection on creativity and your spiritual life.
Did you have one of those growth charts in your house? We have done one over the years, and with four children plus Mom and Dad, there are a lot of marks on the wall.
Every month or two, the kids remember the chart exists and get excited and tell me to get out a pencil. They want to see how much they’ve grown. They love making their mark on the wall.
In fact, when we moved we even took a picture and I re-created the chart on a new door frame at the new house so we could keep tracking the growth.
One of my sons, Christian, used to equate age and height when he was small. He’d ask me about my age, and I’d tell him, and he’d marvel. Once we talked about what life will be like when I am 69 years old, and he said, “you’ll be as a big as a house!”
When we become adults, though, we stop making our mark on the wall. We quit growing, so we quit tracking our growth.
I believe one of the things that happens to us as adults, though, is that we become convinced that we quit growing not just in height but in faith. As we grow older, we gradually quit believing we can make our mark, not just on the wall but on the world.
Fixed Mindset Versus Growth Mindset
Carol Dweck once noticed that student attitudes about failure dramatically altered their future performance. The more she focused on effort over innate ability, the better students performed. She made a simple switch in how she began talking to kids, from intelligence to effort. Because of these observations she coined two terms: “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset”, and started a movement in education that has bled into other fields. (Learn more here.)
There’s a pervasive belief that you are what you are, or that you are the sum of your past experiences. As I said in Think Like Five Year Old, it’s the belief that your past experiences define you and make you into who you are. Dwecks’ observations aren’t just psychological; there’s a spiritual dimension as well.
It is a question of identity. Who are you? Are you a sum total of your past experiences?
The fixed mindset says yes, I AM this.
The growth mindset says, I AM BECOMING this.
Growing in Every Way
When you are a child, you are by definition in the process of becoming. You are always growing. You have a growth mindset.
My thirteen year old son told me the other day that he felt taller, like he had grown a bit when he was sleeping. I believed him. When my kids were younger sometimes they’d come down the stairs in the morning and my wife and I would literally say out loud, “You grew taller!” We could see physical change.
It was shocking to feel like it had happened overnight.
Our bodies eventually stop growing in such a way, but our hearts, minds and spirits don’t. In fact, for those who follow Jesus, life is a ongoing process of growth. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul tells the church that God is calling us to grow up in the faith. He says,
His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ. As a result, we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ, who is the head.Ephesians 4:12-16
Your identity isn’t fixed. But it isn’t just an open book to the future, either. Your identity is a growth identity, not to a construct of your own making but because you are a child of God. You are growing into God’s image for you.
Sometimes growth in our identity as a child of God is sudden and dramatic, like my thirteen year old walking down the stairs. Sometimes our growth as a child of God is like this. Other times it’s not so dramatic. It’s slower and not as obvious.
Further, you can tell growth not by looking directly at the child but by looking indirectly, at things like their pants. It’s the same way in faith.
Un-growing in the Ways of the World
The premise of my book Think Like a Five Year Old is that we have things we are called to do – creative things which benefit us and the world. But we can’t do them because we’ve lost our creative spirit. We’ve become conformed to a consuming world.
The reason Jesus tell us that discovering faith is like becoming children is because he wants us to un-grow in the ways of the world. We’ve grown up the wrong way. We’ve grown into consumers and cynics. We’ve grown into people who don’t like ourselves much, who are aware of our sins and shortcomings. We’ve grown into people who take on a defeatist attitude about life. We think to ourselves – this is WHO WE ARE.
We think, I am an alcoholic, I am a victim of abuse, I am not very kind, not very smart. And sure, we have plenty of good reasons why we are the way we are, but that doesn’t change the fact that we think we are who we are. That our identity is fixed.
We’ve replaced the curiosity of childhood with boredom, passion with apathy, clarity with confusion. These are the things that happen when we take on the attitudes of the world.
But the good news is that Jesus tells us that this fixed identity is wrong. That we have one true identity, and it is that we are a child of God. Jesus invites us to return to being children. This is the first thing. In fact, we can’t learn to grow up the right way until we first learn to come to Jesus as a child.
You know the saying, he’s got a face only a mother could love? That you look at someone who’s kind of unattractive, inside or out, and you think, man I hope his mother loves him because no one else will? Well the reason people say that is because a mother doesn’t just look at who the person is but sees also who the person was when they were innocent, newborns, young, untainted and uncorrupted, a purer image of God.
Becoming Like Children
When we do approach Jesus as a child, Jesus sees us as a child. He sees us as a mother would love her children.
When we become like children in faith, we become again, as we were design in the beginning, more like the image of God that is in us, but obscured. Christ is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation. – Colossians 1:15.
The way we overcome the fixed mindsets in our lives that tell us we’re no good, that we’re the sum of our past and our experiences and our family histories is Jesus. Jesus Christ is the way we can recover the image of God in us.
But – and here’s the great part – God doesn’t desire a bunch of spiritual toddlers running around. Can you imaging? Have you survived parenting through the toddler stage? There is NO WAY God wants us to remain spiritual toddlers.
So Jesus welcomes us as children, but he doesn’t leave us as children. He calls us, cajoles us, challenges us to take steps in faith. To grow. to do things better. To fail as we try, even as a bird falls out of the nest and hits the ground before we can fly.
Growing Up The Right Way
That’s because God has growth in mind for us. The very fact that Jesus disciples people – disciples us – is proof that God believes that we’re capable of more and better things.
The theological word for this is sanctification. It’s the belief that we are getting better, that we are growing up in the faith, maturing and becoming the grownups that God intended for us to be, that we are growing in every way into Christ.
The great thing is that our spiritual growth chart never ends. As long as we’re living we’re growing.
It doesn’t stop when we graduate or after we have young children or at any life stage. It’s so easy to get stuck in life at any point and say, well my growth period is over. I did cool things back then but not now. In fact it’s easy to look in the rear view mirror and say, that was fun, when in reality when you were going through it, it wasn’t fun at all! And you know it!
We glamorize the past and make it nostalgic but that’s just laziness and self-pity, which are signs that we still have growing to do. Jesus is calling us to become things that have not yet become. Jesus wants us to have a growth mindset. Don’t say, I am who I am, or I am incapable, or I’m born this way, or I am never going to be what I should be. The only I AM is God. The only being in the universe that is fixed is the Triune God.
The rest of us are on a journey that is a journey of growth, from the wrong kind of grown ups, back to childhood again, and then to the right kind of grown ups.
This week may you make a mark on your growth chart.