Opening to Greater Growth

One of the greatest hurdles we face on our spiritual path is our own resistance. It is much safer to stay in familiar territory and assume that we know all there is to know. Of course, if someone accused us of knowing everything, we would deny it. But our actions prove that this is often exactly what we believe.

Consider for a moment your reaction to a new idea or belief that is outside of your comfort zone. How do you handle it? Do you immediately dismiss the idea as nonsense or perhaps even heretical? Let me give you an example to work with. Let’s take an idea that we don’t really have information on in the Bible. It could or could not be true. But just for the moment, look at your response to the idea.

Here’s the idea: Was Jesus was married? Ponder that idea for a moment and see if it creates any internal conflict. My guess is that it does. Now it is a great idea to look at because we don’t have any definitive information about it, but we have assumed that he was not married and so it has become a solid reality in most of our thinking. To suggest something different creates discomfort.

I don’t know any more than you do whether Jesus was married or not, but what I do with the information or idea that he was or wasn’t indicates my willingness to grow or to stay closed. A great model for looking at what we do with new information is to use the concept of three piles when considering new ideas.

On the right are the things that you totally think are correct and true and reflect your view of reality. This is your “yes” pile. On the left are the things that you totally disagree with and believe are false. This is your “no” pile. Combined, these two piles make up your worldview and reality. A third pile is the middle pile and represents all of the things you are uncertain of. This represents your area of growth potential.

So how big is your middle pile? Are you certain of most things? Most people grow less certain with more life experience. They understand that the more they learn, the less they know for certain. This is a good thing because it represents a growing awareness of the vastness of creation and the universe.

One example of a growing uncertainty in an area is in the arena of parenthood. One can have a lot of advice regarding children and parenting until children are actually born. Suddenly, one becomes much less certain. Multiply that concept with the number of children one has personally or works with and the middle pile of uncertainty grows. There are as many questions that arise in parenting, as there are personality types in children.

It is fairly easy to understand our ambiguity regarding certainty in defined areas like parenting. Move the idea of uncertainty into theology and religion, however, and you move people into fear. When it comes to religion and God, we like to be certain. We have large piles on the right and on the left when it comes to God.

Ironic, isn’t it? Can you imagine anything larger than God? How could we possibly be so certain about something we know so little about and yet we have specialized in certainty when it comes to theology. Just look at our current wars. Both sides are certain that they know the truth about God. The same thing applies regarding doctrinal debating in churches

One of the things that have been helpful to me in looking at new ideas about God is in looking at the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Here is a woman who knew what it was like to be confronted with new ideas. Her paradigm of God, her life, and religion were stretched beyond belief. How did she handle it?

There is a saying recorded in scripture that reflects how Mary used the middle pile concept in her life. When the angel came to announce her unusual pregnancy and the child that was to be born to her, it says, “Mary pondered these things in her heart.” It says this at more than one point as she is confronted with new and confounding information. Rather than outright reject confusing information she pondered or contemplated it. She stored it in her heart to learn to understand it. Her understanding grew over time and unfolded.

This is exactly the method that will open our hearts in spiritual growth. We have to have a willingness to see God as something bigger than we have ever imagined and rather than outright reject every new idea that comes along, we can safely put it in the middle pile and ponder or contemplate it over time.

It is OK to be uncertain. To be certain about too many things is to stop growing. You will close down to the truth that God is trying to share with you about your own life. In order to grow spiritually, you must grow a large middle pile. If you have nothing in your middle pile you are uncertain about, I can guarantee you are stuck in fear and have stopped growing or have simply just fallen asleep at the wheel.

By seeing a large middle pile as a prerequisite to further spiritual growth and development you can move out of fear and learn to hold uncertainty as a necessary element or ingredient to your needed learning. Opening your heart, you can ponder new ideas within the safety net of your abiding relationship with Christ. If Christ dwells within your heart, you can safely keep your middle pile there and know that your growth is being monitored, mentored, and encouraged by the Spirit. It will enable you to move along your spiritual path. It is what Paul refers to as “growing in grace.”

Can you imagine what might happen within organized religion if we could open ourselves to new learning about God? If we could be less certain about God and perhaps more certain about the urgency of the unmet needs of others in our world and our role in being a light to shine in the darkness, we might even transform the world.

So, was Jesus married or not? That’s a great middle pile question. Put it there and ponder it. You might even ask the Spirit to help teach you what you need to know about it. Open yourself to the implications and see if there is a lesson in it for you. Being right or wrong is not the point, but being willing to be taught by the Spirit is. The Spirit is the one that reveals to us not only secrets about God, but the secrets about ourselves also.

*I am indebted to Lee Kaiser for the three piles model. Thank you, Lee.