We often think of growth as something with steady and visible movement.
Whether that growth is physical, mental, or spiritual, we expect it to look like something is actually growing.
Growth doesn’t necessarily work like that, though.
I have often said that slow progress is still progress. That’s because I see the value of baby steps. Growth that is glacial is growth nonetheless. I often wade into a new thing a bit, try it out, retreat so I can process what I experienced, wade out again a little farther, retreat again, and eventually get all the way in. That’s how I learned to swim, to embroider, to cook, and to read. It’s how I worked on the sexual intimacy in my marriage, too.
Sometimes, though, growth is dramatic—a leap of faith into deep and unknown water. I’ve grown in this way with some things, too. While most of my early work on sexual intimacy came through baby steps, the very first step wasn’t just a step; it was a paradigm shift. In one moment, I was flooded with empathy for my husband and made a commitment to change. This was growth, just as all the baby steps that followed were growth.
Growth isn’t always visible. We may expect growth to involve taking new steps and moving forward. This is growth we can see.
Growth that we cannot see is just as important.
Imagine a plant.
It begins as a seed. We can see the external growth as leaves and stems grow. We watch flowers bloom and trees blossom. We see the tip of the corn poking its head through the soil.
Underground, though, where we can’t see, the plant’s growth is vital. A plant grows roots in order to live. Roots give the plant the water needed to sustain life. Roots anchor the plant in place in times of wind and rain. When you pull a brand new seedling out of the earth, you’re likely to see more root than leaf or stem. Roots provide a foundation for the growth that is visible above ground.
How does this process work in a marriage?
I went through the same kinds of growth in the sexual intimacy in my marriage. I had a sudden and powerful shift, I made many small changes, and I grew internally in that my thoughts and feelings about sex and about my husband began to change.
In a marriage, though, it isn’t just one person growing. It’s two people—and that makes things interesting.
I’ve heard from plenty of women who’ve expressed frustration with the growth in sexual intimacy in their marriages. They start off going strong, and then their growth seems to stall. They just can’t seem to move past the point where they are.
Sometimes, it is our husbands whose growth seems to pause. The guys may be making some changes in how they love their wives, relearning to trust their wives, healing from an extended time of feeling rejected, or finding contentment for the first time in a long while. Then they suddenly seem to stop making progress.
Then there’s the relationship dynamic that seems to have its own trajectory of growth: big and sudden changes, small slow steps, and then the appearance of nothing: “We were doing great, with good progress and wonderful changes in our relationship, and now we just seem immovable. Nothing seems to be happening!”
In marriage, the times of standing still may be when we are growing spiritually as individuals and as a couple, preparing for the more visible growth to come, and nourishing our hearts in order to provide healing. The hidden growth provides the necessary foundation for the visible growth.
Take heart and know that when nothing seems to be happening, it may be that there is tremendous growth taking place.
Both kinds of growth—the changes that are visible and the changes that are hidden from our eyes—are necessary for a plant to fully mature.
The same is true for us.
Over the past several years, I have undergone a great deal of spiritual growth. At times, that growth shows externally. I can see changes in my prayer habits, how I apply God’s word in my daily life, and my ways of responding to things. Sometimes these changes happen slowly. Sometimes they happen seemingly overnight.
At other times, nothing seems to be changing at all—yet I can always see later how at the times when I was standing still spiritually, I was growing in deep and hidden ways. It’s as if my soul has been searching out its nourishment from God. My heart follows guidance from the Father, connects more deeply with the Son, and becomes more open to the Holy Spirit. While none of this may be visible, it is significant and necessary to my spiritual growth and maturation.
My habits—the things that can be seen—don’t exhibit change at these times, but my heart roots are helping sustain my spiritual life, anchor me for coming storms, and provide nourishment for the growth to come.
And so it goes: my growth is comprised of incremental visible changes, sudden visible shifts, and times when the nothing that seems to be happening is actually deep and invisible growth.
Growth sometimes looks like growth. At other times, growth looks like standing still.
The growth that is hidden, with no visible movement, may be the very thing that allows the visible growth to continue. Hidden growth helps us thrive just as much as the visible growth does.
The times we seem to be standing still might be when we are growing the most.
What have you observed about growth in your own life and in your marriage?
Image courtesy of Vlado at FreeDigitalPhotos.net