A few months ago, in an email exchange with another priest, he mentioned that he and his siblings had been busy helping their parents pack up their house as they prepared to sell it and move to a senior living facility. For those of you who have gone through this experience, you know that it is bittersweet. On the one hand it can be very sad because it marks the end of something important—not just the sale of a house, but the sale of a home. On the other hand, it is also a time of gratitude as you remember all the good times and the wonderful experiences that took place there. Those memories are precious gifts that help soften the sadness that these endings often bring.
One of my friend’s emails contained an attachment. It was a picture of the pencil marks indicating his height and that of his brothers and sisters at various times as they were growing up. In this case their growth was measured on the inside of their father’s closet. My friend noted particularly the time when he passed his older brother in height (an achievement that time had obviously not diminished). As I looked at the picture, it brought back memories of a wall in the house where I grew up where the growth of my brothers and sisters (and later, nieces and nephews) was recorded. That house was sold many years ago and unfortunately, unlike my friend, I wasn’t smart enough to take a picture of the wall before it was sold. I suspect the new owner’s have long since painted over our wall of growth.
As I was thinking about this experience, it struck me that in each of our lives there are various ways we measure our growth or aging. Marks on a wall are one way, but it could also be measured by a widening waist line or a receding hairline, or wrinkles. Now, while we have lots of specific ways of measuring and recording our physical growth, there isn’t any instrument or tool (at least to my knowledge) that can measure our spiritual growth. And yet, I would wager that most of us are growing spiritually.
In reflecting on this, it occurred to me that while there may not be any external way of measuring our spiritual growth, there may be some other markers that could be helpful. Specifically, in regard to our spiritual growth, I think we need to take the long view. We need to ask ourselves on a regular basis: Am I a better person today than I was a year ago or ten years ago? Do I feel closer to God now than I did in the past? Can I identify occasions when I have experienced God’s presence in new and/or different places? Have I been surprised to discover God’s grace in unexpected ways? If we can say yes to any of these things then I think we are growing spiritually.
While we may not be able to measure our spiritual growth with marks on a wall, I do believe that it nonetheless does occur. We need only take some time to reflect on our life, so that we might discover that perhaps unbeknownst to us we have indeed been growing in our spiritual life, and, as importantly, that God is always inviting us to enter even more deeply into our relationship with God.