I’ve been praying for the Lord to grow me closer to him this year. Maybe this is something you pray too, so you might not be as naïve as I am, but it seems that whenever I pray this, I imagine it to look something like me just simply feeling more loved and loving God more. However, I must laugh because my memory is short-lived. If I look back on my life, I can say with confidence that this is almost never the case. In times of real growth, I do not simply wake up happily one day and grow closer to the Lord. It is not some happy emotion or fleeting feeling.

Real growth is different. Real growth is painful. Real growth is hard. Real growth requires perseverance. It requires change, and death, and renewal.

I think of the simple seed. We all know that a small acorn can grow into a powerful oak, and this process seems simply beautiful and easy and glorious. But what is actually happening?  

When planted in the ground, a seed is in the depth and dark of the soil. And then it grows. Slowly. Painfully. Invisibly to the world around it. First, the outer protective layer of this seed splits in two revealing a vulnerable inside. Then there is slow growth… in the wrong direction. The sun is shining above and the rain falls on top of the soil, and the farmer is waiting to see the sprout come up out of the ground. Yet, the seed sends its growth in the opposite direction. Down. Away from the sunlight, rain, and the waiting world around it. This invisible process of growth is simply small sprouts pushing through dark soil. The Roots.

The Roots. The invisible foundations that provide strength and nutrients and power to the oak. Without the roots, the oak is nothing. When the roots aren’t established there is no visible growth. When the roots rot, the oak falls. The visible tree is what we see, the roots are what grows and sustains it. Eventually the roots of that seed feed and reveal a powerful oak. But it is not the trunk or the leaves or the bark that causes the branches of the oak to grow, but the roots. The unseen work under the soil.

I pray for growth, and I want the beautiful leaves and the sturdy trunk and the heaven-reaching branches. I don’t want the invisible dirty roots. I want the prosperity and the beauty and joy that can be seen on the outside, in my actions and in my life, but I don’t want the hard, invisible work that happens deep in my heart and soul. I want the beautiful sunshine without the dirt and grit of the soil. I want the faith without the situations that require me to trust, the humility without the circumstances that show I am flawed, and the selfless love for others without the people that cause me to die to my own desires. I want the growth without the struggle, the beauty of the tree without the dirty, slow growth of roots.  

This year in the Raleigh Fellows Program, I’ve prayed for the Lord to Grow me. He has. He is. The strange thing in this Christian life is that growth in Christ many times doesn’t look like growth, but death.

Death to my desires. Death to my plan. Death my ego. Death to my sin. Death to myself.

Death. The first step in growth. It is only in this death that we can truly become alive and grow into what the Lord has called us to. The Lord is growing roots, giving me situations to trust him and put to death those things that call me away. This process of dying to self, isn’t pretty, isn’t easy. It’s hard. Painful. Ugly. It’s the process of laying down roots. It’s the invisible process of the Holy Spirit communing with the soul. Of choosing his will over mine, of choosing to trust instead of doubt, of choosing to love him above all else. It’s the process God has me in right now. It’s a continual process. It’s the process of growth.

Growth this year. Real growth. It’s allowing God to do the hard work. The invisible soul work. The death-to-self work. The dirty, painful, growing down into the soil work. But it is this growth, this death to myself, that will draw me up and closer to Him.  While the Lord grows me in the dirt and soil, putting to death those things that desire to rot my roots, he is growing me in life. Teaching me what it looks like to truly grow and be alive in him. And this is what this growth looks like. I am learning to embrace the process of real growth. The hard stuff, the invisible stuff, the roots.