If you’re a parent, you’re familiar with those growth charts that doctors use to compare your child’s height and weight to other children’s. They’ll say things like, “Your son is at the 85th percentile for height and the 90th percentile for weight.”
I had a love-love-hate relationship with those charts. Two of my kids were always in the upper ranges, so I felt like I’d done an extra good job of nurturing them. My youngest was a different story. He was at the 25th percentile for both height and weight. Every time we’d go to the doctor, I’d have to hear, “Your son is only at the 25th percentile for both height and weight.” That “only” irked me. Somebody has to be at the low end of the chart, and shouldn’t we be glad he isn’t at the very bottom?
One time I just lost it. The doctor, again, said, “He’s only at the 25th percentile. Aren’t you a little bit worried about him?” Mama Bear came out to play with the doctor. I informed him that two things were really important. First, my son had been at the 25th percentile consistently. That meant his rate of growth was steady and therefore not a new concern. Second, and more important, I asked the doctor this: “Has my son gained weight since we were here last? Has his height increased? Yes? Okay, that means he’s growing. And I don’t appreciate you trying to make me feel bad for allowing my son to grow at his own pace when he is clearly growing at the same rate he always has.” After I settled down, the doctor apologized. His son was the same age, and he’d been subconsciously comparing my son to his.
I learned a lesson that day about how to measure growth. It is easy to get so focused on day-to-day progress that we forget to look at the big picture. I see this all the time in marriages. People will get caught up in the details of the week or the days. Taxes. Soccer tournaments. A child’s graduation party. Car repairs. It’s hard to be able to see the big picture of the marriage relationship when we’re looking through all the stuff in our lives. And from day to day, it may not seem like there’s much change.When we compare our marriages to other people’s marriages, it’s even harder to recognize what growth is happening.
As I began to read and learn about the role of sexual intimacy in maintaining a marriage, it mattered to me that our marriage as a whole was improving, not just the sex. As I was beginning to make some specific changes in my approach to marriage and sex, there were times when the progress just seemed slow. For several weeks, it wouldn’t feel like anything was really different. I would make the same efforts, day after day and week after week. I couldn’t tell if my husband noticed or was responding at all. I would find myself frustrated, wondering, “Why am I going through all this hard work? I’m stepping outside my comfort zone and trying to make new habits, and it isn’t making any difference at all.” Around three months after I started to make some changes, my husband hadn’t seemed to notice any of my efforts at all. He was still grouchy and depressed much of the time. I wanted to give up, many, many times.
But then I would pause and think about measuring growth differently. Day by day, I couldn’t see any progress. But then I looked back. Was our marriage better than it was a month ago? Two months ago? A year ago? Was it better than it was the day before I started to make an effort to change? Even though my husband still seemed grouchy much of the time, I was able to recognize that there were other things as well. He was laughing more frequently. We were arguing less. We both seemed more relaxed at bedtime and were sleeping better.
Growth should be measured in the long view. Slow progress is still progress, and sometimes we can see that only when we are willing to stop comparing ourselves to others and to yesterday. We expect immediate rewards for our efforts, and it can be hard to keep at something when we can’t yet tell if there is an impact. Progress can happen incrementally, in ways we can’t observe if we watch too closely. Have you ever tried to watch a plant grow?
If you are trying to make some changes in yourself and your marriage, don’t let yourself be discouraged because you can’t see change from day to day. Take heart and know that God’s timing is not our timing.
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