Spiritual Maturity | Part 2 of 6
At some point on our spiritual journey, the steps get steeper, the passages get narrower, and we run into roadblocks. Jesus, the one who called us to this journey, warned us this would happen: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate” (Lk 13:24a). Growth into spiritual maturity requires serious effort on our behalf. But if we are genuine and spiritual maturity is our goal, can we expect to do anything less?
In an earlier Liguorian article [“From the Publisher,” December 2010], we reflected on Jesus as a “spiritual compass.” That metaphor for our relationship with Christ is very much what we need when the road is hard. In our moments of agony or serious pain, we ask in the midst of our struggles, “Where do I turn now?” As Christians, we turn to Christ. Our relationship with him will direct us through these difficult moments.
Some growth occurs only through pain. This does not mean we are called to be masochists. Though pain is not good in itself, it can cause new life to grow through struggle. In general, pain sends a message. For example, physical pain warns us to act or to pull away by telling us something is wrong. Without this reaction, we would simply allow our body parts to break, burn, or be cut to shreds.
Spiritual pain, too, warns us to act. Without a troubled conscience, we would hurt others, remain selfish, or continue in a wrong direction. And without honest fears, we would not respond reasonably when faced with danger. Spiritual pain is part of our “compass” to spiritual maturity.
It is possible to avoid suffering by passing up activities or challenges that bring risks. Still, real spiritual growth requires us to know our limits and accept that they cannot be overcome quickly. Every athlete, musician, or parent knows the value of genuine discipline. Real growth takes time, practice, repetition, failures, and new frontiers. Scripture points to endurance as a key element in completing the road in front of us: “Let us…persevere in running the race that lies before us” (Heb 12:1b). In the spiritual life, discipline is needed to prune and shape our progress.