Growth is Incremental
We did it! Jesus, my three kiddos and I hit the bulk aisle at WinCo and thrived to tell about it. We were loving in our words, we were patient with one another, and we fit in bathroom breaks around both the hour drives to and from home. We met success!
And, while I was pleasantly surprised that our trip was a relational (and pantry-stocking) success, upon reflection, I see the steps that led us to that success. God led us incrementally to grow in smaller challenges before we navigated that looming one of the WinCo bulk aisles.
First we practiced grocery shopping as one Mama with one child (who was in the cart). Then, we practiced with two children – one in the cart and one walking. Now, we practice with three children – one in the Ergo (baby carrier), one in the cart, and one walking. See the incremental nature of building our family grocery shopping skill?
Another way we built was by practicing on short, simple grocery trips to medium or small sized stores when we are only buying a dozen items: “Touch the cart or Mama, nothing else. You may tell Mama what or who you observe. You may not ask Mama to buy things.” (Acknowledgements here go to my husband, who did the bulk of grocery shopping when our third child was still less than a year old.) Then, we practiced on longer trips with longer lists of items to buy. Most recently, we practiced where it was most difficult—at WinCo. WinCo is a massive grocery store and it has bulk food bins, which means that I need to bag and label each item. After our trip, I was amazed at how our children stayed with me, didn’t touch the items on shelves, and didn’t ask to buy many things. We met success because of God’s grace to teach us incrementally and because of our work to learn incrementally along the way.
Growth is incremental; it is sometimes fast and sometimes slow. Yet everything that grows does it one portion at a time.
Plants grow in increments. In winter, they are dormant. In spring and summer, they grow rapidly. Each portion of growth happens day by day, not all at once.
So it is with our learning and with our hearts. For the sake of distinguishing between things we know (knowledge) and can do (skills) from who we are (character), I’ll use different terms for the type of incremental growing. Knowledge and skills come in levels and character comes in layers.
My heartbeat for learning and my college degree in teaching both contribute to my perspective on how people learn. The way I understand learning is that it is a cumulative effect. It isn’t a “yes” or “no” that I know a certain thing. Instead, there are a number of levels of knowledge I may have. I may know nothing about it. I may have learned some basics. I may have an intermediate understanding. I may have an advanced knowledge of it. Or, I may have an expert level of mastery. In every sphere of knowledge, of course, there is always more I could know. I never have arrived. Thus, my cumulative knowledge in any sphere could be described as a certain amount of levels. It is both incremental and ever able to increase.
Just as I learn knowledge incrementally, so skills are built incrementally as well. Each time I learn from an excellent cook about how to use a paring or chef’s knife correctly and then practice it, I gain greater skill. I’ve termed both of these types of learning as “levels” because there is no specific limit to the amount of growth that can be achieved. Another way it can be quantified is with the terms “basic”, “intermediate” , “advanced”, and “expert”. These terms of comparison help me celebrate with my children as they learn basic proficiency without flattering them by praising them as experts. For example, “Yes! You’ve got the basics of balancing on a bike now!” versus, “Yay, you’re a pro!” The former encouragement is true and gracious. Whereas the latter is aiming to encourage, but it does so through exaggeration and flattery. Plus, it leaves no upward room for future encouragement of growth at this skill.
In addition to knowledge and skills, character grows incrementally too. Perhaps for character, it would be more apt to describe character as growing by layers instead of by levels. Just like skills, it has the possibility of ever increasing. However, using the term “layers” to measure depth of character, points to an internal reality. It’s the reality that as I abide in Christ, He grows me and produces more and more of the fruit of the Spirit. He promised in John 15:3, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” Because of Christ’s relationship with me, I become more and more full of each of the fruits of the Spirit every day. (Gal. 5:22-23)
This provides understanding to the common complaint: “God, you already worked on my patience!” Yes, He did and He will again. He is interested in your patience increasing layer by layer as you become more like Jesus Christ. (Rom. 8:29; Phil. 1:6). It is not a simple matter of checking the box that patience is learned. It is learned at age 1, age 2, age 3, and so on. I expect my 5 year old daughter to have more patience than my 3 year old son. And, I expect my own heart to have deeper layers of patience than both of them.
In closing, I have learned to expect growth. I expect it in myself, by God’s grace, and I expect it in my children. I also realize that growing is no passive pursuit. It involves daily relationship with my Creator and the willingness to practice the next incremental step that He places before me today.