I knew it was probably going to be a tough class. It was the end of the first day of the semester, and the professor wanted to make one final point before letting us go.
He talked about his two boys. When they were babies, like most babies, one of the only ways to communicate was through crying. A wet diaper causes crying. Hunger causes crying. Tiredness causing crying.
But he said what surprised him was how much crying had no apparent cause. Babies not only cry because they are hungry or wet or tired. They also cry because they’re growing. And growing hurts.
Growing has got to hurt. Your bones, your muscles, your organs… everything is stretching and growing all at once.
He said that this semester is going to be painful. We’re going to deal with all kinds of issues, we’re going to whizz through lots of complex material, and oh by the way, many of the ideas and theories we’re going to talk about are going to be ambiguous, not fully defined, and contradictory. But at the other end, if you work through all that pain, you’ll see that the growth was worth it.
I hated the class at first. I saw what a difficult class it was going to be, and the extremely high expectations, and my competitiveness stepped in and I wanted to take names and kick hyde. I gave a group presentation that I thought was one of the best I had ever given in my life. Then we concluded and opened to questions, and I watched him lob question after question to us like he was throwing molotov cocktails. We met with him after to talk about our presentation, and after that conversation I could not feel more disappointed. This is not how I had planned my day! I was so sure I was going to rock it, I scheduled a job interview for the following hour! This did not go the way I had planned.
Time to prepare for the second, and final, presentation. The stakes were higher. The case was more complex. We were much further along and our analysis had to be much more sophisticated. I worked with my team, and I thought we had a pretty solid idea. We were playing for keeps.
I went to pitch my idea for presentation #2, thinking this time I had nailed it. And again I saw him lob question after question and decimate my ideas. I thought I had it nailed, but it nailed me.
He started to walk off, and out of desperation, I raised my voice and said, “But you’re not teaching us how to do this!” I was frustrated at this point, and if I look back at it now, there’s probably some comparison that can be made to a little kid whining…. “But daddyyyyyyyyyyyy”.
I thought of that incident today as I was driving home from church. I feel like some of my prayers have been in that tone lately. I have prayed many prayers that I just don’t completely like my life situation. I feel pain and I’ve been asking God in a big way to take it away.
Not pain like emotional pain, or physical pain. Growing pain. Good pain. Like all my bones and all my muscles are stretching and though that is painful, what comes out of it are new abilities, new responsibilities, new kingdom assignments.
I know a lot of people in my life that are right there right now. None of us have broken arms or legs—but we all have pain. Pain we can’t quite put our fingers on. Pain God doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to relieve.
After hearing me complain about his teaching abilities, my professor turned around and spent several more minutes with us. “Your idea sucks. Go back to the drawing board” was the basic gist of the message.
So we did. I stepped up and really began to take more leadership in our group. We pushed forward, came up with a bunch of new ideas and painstakingly whittled it down to one idea.
I presented the new idea to my professor. He said he was actually blown away by it and we should absolutely move forward with it. We spent weeks working on our proposal. Painstakingly whittling it down to one core idea, anticipating questions, building the strongest case we could.
So on the final day of semester, I made my case with my group. When we reviewed with the professor after, he was glowing with praise. It was absolutely one of the highlights of my college life. Later, he wrote a letter of recommendation for me that will be one of my most prized possessions, calling me a thought leader and one of his brightest students.
And you know what? He was right. The pain was worth it. I endured to the end. He was easily one of my best professors ever. I learned more and grew more in that class than probably all the previous years of college combined. It was also by far the most difficult and most challenging.
I think about my prayers to remove my current pain. And as I was driving home tonight, I realize that these are the dumbest prayers we could ever ask, and that God could ever grant. If God allowed us to escape growth just to escape pain, we probably wouldn’t make it out of the womb or diapers. (which would put a real damper on that whole “be fruitful and multiply” command!)
My new prayer is not to avoid the growing pains. But to endure through them, to learn whatever God is teaching me, and to come out on the other side appreciating how I changed and grew in the process.
Praise the Lord for growing pains.
“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” -Acts 20:24