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If our search for the God within becomes narcissism, the seeker has somehow gotten off the track.

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- Don't Know, Must Choose

- Putting Faith First

- Parting the Clouds

- Journaling for Discernment

Listening to Your Life

The starting place for spiritual growth

Written By Robert Campbell

To be sure, growth of any kind can be difficult. Who cannot remember the physical aches from childhood and adolescence associated with growing bones and muscles? "Growing pains" was the catch phrase we heard from adults as our body followed down its natural course of development and expansion. But fortunately or unfortunately, adults failed to tell us that growing pains don't end with high school or acne. Rather, they stay with us in an infinite number of ways—and our bodies, our minds and our souls at times still ache because of them. We watch our children grow. We watch our relationships grow. We plant flowers along the back walk. We invest in mutual funds. Virtually every aspect of our lives is concerned with growth.

We hear a lot about spiritual growth as well. Whether Mystic or Methodist, Buddhist or Baptist, chances are we find ourselves thinking about what it means to develop and expand our spirits. When all is said and done, this kind of growth may be the most difficult of them all. In many ways, its course may be much less predictable than that of a pre-schooler, a petunia or a portfolio. Spiritual growth is risky. Moreover, it is elusive.

However, of the many definitions that our contemporary culture offers, one in particular keeps presenting itself to me, as it has for the many years since the time I first ran across it. It comes from author and theologian, Frederick Buechner, in his book entitled, Now and Then. Buechner argues that spirituality is rooted in and grows from listening—not to everybody else, but to yourself, to your own life. He urged, "Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments…listen to your life."

In other words, pay attention—to your tears, to your laughter, to your fear, to your hope, to your loneliness, to your connectedness—pay attention to those key moments when you sense yourself being more alive, more challenged, more centered, more a part of something greater. Spirituality, I think, is listening to our Self, and spiritual growth is learning to not be frightened by what we hear.

In her book The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver uses the powerful phrase "ferocious uncertainty" to describe what one of her characters feels towards so many of the beliefs she once clung to so fiercely. Perhaps all of us find ourselves to some degree in that phrase. When we were little, life was easier to figure out. For the most part, things hung together, and when they didn't, there seemed to be answers that we could swallow easily. But through the years, life grows to be inherently complex—things don't always hang together, we don't always hang together—and the answers to which we looked don't always go down quite as effortlessly.

Scary as it may be, I think we are called to listen deeply in times of transition, paying attention to what our uncertainties might be nudging us to question, to explore, to wonder about. I think we are called to lean into the voice inside that tells us that really listening is wrong, that it can't be trusted, that it is simply too frightening. To the contrary, I believe it is the only starting place for real spiritual growth. I believe it is the only starting place for life. And though the growing pains are real, the ache we may experience is a common one, shared by all who have ever taken up the risky work and play of growing up.