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Can We Actually Measure Spiritual Growth? | by Cara Meredith

We talk a lot about growth in our house.

Sometimes the conversation is literally about the physical growth that happens in our bodies, when the pants that fit my kids just last month seem to have shrunk to high-water, above-the-ankle status overnight.

More often then not, though, the conversation extends to spiritual, emotional and mental growth too. When I sit beside my seven-year old to crank through the list of spelling words, I marvel at how his brain puts together the pieces of the puzzle, memorizing sight words and blending consonants and vowels. And when, while engrossed in a rather lively family discussion around the dinner table, my five-year-old reminds the rest of the family to “just talk about it, if you have a problem with someone,” I can’t help but shake my head in simultaneous wonder and amusement. He’s leading and guiding the rest of us, that’s for sure.

But if I’m honest with you, spiritual growth kind of trips me up, perhaps because it feels so immeasurable. Sure, I can chart how many mornings in a row I’ve spent in silence and solitude before God, or I can flip back through my journals to see how many of my written prayers were actually, eventually answered – but in all actuality, neither of those tangible actions measure spiritual growth, perhaps because spiritual growth can never fully be measured in numbers.

Years ago, when I served in full-time ministry, numbers always, inevitably made their way into the conversation. Numbers were a part of monthly board meetings when talk of deficit and surplus coincided with actual need; numbers were a part of volunteer planning meetings, when we thought about how many adults we needed to effectively meet the number of teenagers we wanted to reach.

Sometimes, when the numbers became too much for me to wrap my brain around, I’d close my eyes and sit back in my chair. I’d try my hardest to let peace envelop all those swirling numbers, one digit at a time.

But sometimes, I’d approach those numbers with intentionality, praying aloud and in my heart for specific numerical requests: God, we need to raise $13,000 by the end of the month, but we can’t do this alone…Jesus, we’re begging you for four more volunteer middle school leaders – for four adults who love you and love kids fiercely.

Sometimes those prayers (for those specific numbers) would be answered, and sometimes they wouldn’t. But always, God was faithful. Always, God was present. Always, God was with us, both in the joy and celebrations, and in the pain and heartache.

So, for me, when I think about spiritual growth, this is where I land: it’s a place of peace, even in the midst of not-knowing. Sometimes it’s a place of seeing tangible results and answers to prayer, but most of the time, it’s just a place of acknowledgement: God I see you in the world around me. I see you in today’s interaction with my neighbor. I see you in that hard conversation. I see you in the tears, just as I see you in the birthday balloons. I see you in the wild diversity of the world around me.

Because in this seeing, I know that I am loved and celebrated for exactly who I am: a child of God.

And if that isn’t growth, I don’t know what is.

. . .

Cara Meredith is a writer, speaker, and conversationalist from the San Francisco Bay area. She is the author of The Color of Life, a spiritual memoir about her journey through life as a white woman into issues of justice, race, and privilege. Connect with her more via her website, Facebook, and Instagram.

  1. Thank you Cara for sharing this. I agree, if this isn’t growth, I don’t know what is.

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