Spiritual growth at my age is tougher than when I was younger and newer in my faith.
Every choice I made as a young woman that was centered on my faith in God seemed to have some kind of gratification attached to it, whether it was an answer to prayer or an "thatta-girl" type of praise from a mentor or a close friend. Discoveries that I made in my relationship with God had an exhilerating spark to them as I shared them in my bible study groups or with women I discipled even as a thirty-something. I re-read my quiet time journals from back then and there is that heart felt earnestness and zeal in my prayers and praise to God that I haven't seen lately in my current quiet time journals.
And now I'm forty-something and the momentum towards fifty is picking up.
As an older woman who has moved around a lot and unable to stay in intimate contact with every close friend left behind, there are fewer "thatta-girl" encouragements than back then. These days, positive feedback is extremely rare but just as appreciated, but I don't rely on it anymore, or any compliments to help me see that I'm going in the right direction. My current journals are deeper and richer, making the previous ones seem shallow by comparison. And answers to prayer aren't that obvious anymore, but I'm more convinced that God hears me without having to have proof.
However, attachments to this world are also deeper. I've spent more time here than a measely 20 years. I see God say "no" more often to prayer requests than I see Him say "of course". Everything regarding faithful sacrifice has a larger price tag because I have a lot more to lose. And suffering and loss (my own) are guaranteed to be around the corner than a faraway anticipation when I was young. Other's people suffering and losses make me feel inadequate and helpless. My sin has become so much more clearly horrible to me than ever before. And I really don't see that "spiritual giant" that I was hoping to become by now when I first started to follow Christ. I live in fear that I have been blindly putting something or someone else before God in my life. And sometimes, I suspect, I need a tougher reprimand from the Holy Spirit to get me moving where I have to be. Even worse, I know what will befall me when my King judges me if I don't get moving where I have to be. And more than that, I don't want that to be my motivation to obey Him.
I've been thinking of a woman back in California that I knew who underwent church discipline. She was a senior citizen who made a racist remark at a church function within earshot of the worship leader who was African American. Although our worship leader forgave her, she would not repent and after giving her several chances, she and her husband had to leave our small fellowship. She and her husband raised godly children, some of whom were involved in missions. I often wondered back then in my thirty somethings how could that be. Her husband was a godly influence and prayer partner with mine. I was amazed at his loving care towards her even though she would openly vocalize contempt for him and wondered, also naively, how he could keep loving such a shrew. But long before this incident (which was shared with me long afterwards) I never wanted to talk with her or be anything like her. She was the most bitter wife I had ever met. Her husband, whom I'll call D., came to our bible study group for years even after they left our church (for reasons we didn't know then), but I never once called her to invite her also. If I had to call D. for any reason, when she'd answer the phone it was obvious that she didn't like me, either.
We had a potluck in our bible study towards our last months in California and for once, D. brought something to pass. He offhandedly mentioned that his wife made it just for our group. The other women (who didn't know her) asked why she never came. D. just shrugged it off. The women looked at me, who was the hostess of our group, in such a way that made me feel uncomfortably guilty. I called her the next day to thank her, and was surprised at her fresh and kind tone of voice. I asked for her recipe and we joked about cooking. I asked if she would like to attend our Bible study and she seemed really touched. After a few great moments of more pleasant conversation where I inquired about her health and she spoke about their new church, I hung up amazed at her transformation, wondering if I was really talking with her or her single nearly identical twin sister but godlier who lived down the block from her.
A few weeks later I mentioned to our pastor that I had a nice conversation with D.'s wife and he shared the story about her sinful tongue and a few other stories. It was gossip. I was shocked, first about the stories themselves and the manner that I had learned it. Gossip is demonic.
Her potluck dish that she sent along with D. was a gesture of love. As a fellow cook, I knew that. I didn't call her again, not seeing that she possibly was trying to change for the better. The gossip had put a wedge between me and her, preventing any kind of encouragement that I could have helped her with. Satan wanted her back, but I didn't see that. All I saw was a bitter woman and a bigot to boot.
Yesterday, I remembered her and cried. I remembered the good things about her--the love in her voice when she talked about her children and grandchildren, her faithfulness to her husband even though her words about him seemed harsh, the potluck dish, her close relationship with her more positive and joyful single sister and her change in heart towards me on the phone. And for the lost opportunities to try to get to know her better and for my cruel judgement of her and letting gossip influence me. I hoped that God's discipline towards her had produced righteousness in her and caused her to love Him more and more. And for the first time, I thought, if that is the case, I want to be like her. But more than that, I saw that God will do whatever it takes to help us grow.