“Growing points were the things that spoke to me on the journey through Italy. You can see them already on the bare boughs, waiting for the spring, and all the year through they are the most precious thing the plant has got, be it great or small, and the most shielded therefore from chance of harm. And the growing point of our soul is the thing with which the Spirit of God is specially dealing, and all depends on faithfulness there.” Diary 23 December 1900
One of the great and unexpected joys of retirement has been gardening – Dave tending; me cutting! – spurred, no doubt, by having been gifted a rose garden. Eight rose plants, in various stages of growth, bring delight whether viewed outside or framed by the dining room window. Foliage or bloom, each aspect provides recreation: tilling the soil, tending the plants, watching buds unfurl to flower, choosing the perfect moment to cut and capture the blossom for display in silver bud vase or flask of cranberry glass.
Perhaps one of the prime pleasures, for Gardener-Dave, is the daily examination of each individual bush for signs of new life: flush of red foliage signalling the advent of new buds. Daily, in season (almost year round in Florida) he proudly proclaims the promise encapsulated in sheaths of green: 10 buds… 22 buds… 63 buds! Each bud signals new life. Growing points. Each new growing point – whether a rose or any other plant – signals the same: hope, potential, promise. Life.
And as it is with the plant so it is with the soul. Each new growing point indicates life. Many years ago I read a book by Bruce Larsen, Living on the Growing Edge. The contents, I hardly remember, but the title has challenged me to this day. Larsen observed a remarkable teacher known not only for her effective teaching of young students but for her ability to help them understand themselves and life. He asked her about her method. She answered that it was to be aware of the “growing edge” of each student. The growing edge, its seems, is that area in the student’s life where he is ready and able to learn. A good teacher must know what a student needs to learn, and is ready to learn, and then present him with that material.
Larsen proceeds to make his point: “Surely this is how the Holy Spirit wants to work in each of our lives. Everyone of us has a spiritual growing edge. We all have mastered certain skills and subjects and disciplines and formed certain attitudes. Our tendency is to sit back and make this the sum and substance of the Christian experience. On the other hand God says, ‘Well done,’ and then moves us on to new areas that we can grasp and master.”
It is, in reality, much easier to stay put, so to speak, to play to the middle ground of ones particular area of strength. Maybe, even a bit smugly, measure others by that strength and come out winning. But growth, real growth, is pushing out to the edge of our experience – to our personal growing edge – out of our safety zone into new life. It has been said about the artist, that in art he or she never stands still. One is either growing or dying. The same could be said in the life of the soul. Faith that huddles in the security of the known is a faith that repeats itself, without moving out to the edge, toward the possibilities God intends for each person.
There are countless examples, in every disciple, that illustrate this life concept. But one close to my heart is that of my mother as she lived out the final decade of her life. Old-school, by generation and temperament, she gloried in her role as “support partner” to her husband. We as a family witnessed her redefine her role, to accommodate her husband’s failing health, taking the lead not only for herself but for her mate. After his death, she restructured her changing world, to interface with her family placed on each corner of the United States. She remembered the names of her 16 great-grandchildren by group photos from which she daily prayed for them. She wrote her memoirs between the ages of 92-95 to impart her legacy of faith to her family. I learned from a fellow resident of her retirement home, a retired Superintendent of Schools, that Mother was his main competition for the first-go of the library copy of the Chicago Tribune. While I knew that she kept up with world and national events (and held strong opinions of the latter) it wasn’t until her memorial service, this summer, that I learned the scope of her reading. She kept up with sports events (for which she had little or no interest) to keep informed and conversant with her grandson-in law’s interest in the Pittsburg Steelers. She passed on her copy of “Psychology for Living” to another grandson-in-law who was a clinical psychologist.
“Living on the growing edge” will mean different things to different people. It will mean different things for the same person at various times in their life. For my mother, an introvert by nature, it meant pushing herself in many directions to connect relationally with family diverse geographically and active in a world increasingly foreign to her. The growing point of a soul may be, like Mother’s, determined by response to a radical life event… it might be opening oneself to a challenging experience – or point of view. . . it could be developing a new skill to open new doors of opportunity. . . or swallowing one’s pride by releasing ones “right to be right” for the restoration of a relationship. It might require embracing new ways of doing things – in music or worship. . . taking a risk – even in the face of possible failure. . . being more active if we are reflective by bent – or vice versa. . . .
Living on the growing edge. Growing points. At the end of the day, it is not a senseless arbitrary action – jumping to the unknown or untried. Rather it is being attentive to the working of God’s spirit in our souls. “The growing edge of our soul is the thing with which the Spirit of God is specially dealing and all depends on faithfulness there.”
Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland.