By Elizabeth McNulty, FC 20
Growth is a really tough word. On one hand, if I slap the word “physical” in front of it, then I got myself an elementary math equation to determine an exact measurement. All I have to do is look at a measuring tape, read numbers on a scale, etc. to be able to almost immediately grasp how anything has physically grown. For decades people have been coming up with different tools and gadgets to provide others with numbers down to the smallest unit possible to satisfy humanity’s thirst to use something concrete to understand their growth. This is all well and good, but what about the other side of growth? What happens when I slap the words emotional, mental, spiritual or psychological in front of growth? When I can’t go on Amazon and have a tool that gives me all the answers to those types of growth within 3-5 business days?
When we were asked to write on the question of “how are you growing?” my brain immediately tried to take the easy way out. I thought maybe I could make up something cutesy about how I grew a few extra layers of protection around my middle from all the love poured out on us in the form of food this year, or how my hair has grown longer than ever because I am too stubborn to use my $100 stipend on a haircut. Physical growth= easy to measure, easy to understand. But if I thought that was the type of growth that we were supposed to reflect on, I probably wouldn’t have turned this blog in two months late. These other types of growth are much more scary topics to discuss because they are mostly dependent on a great deal of self-reflection. I personally can only really judge if I have made progress in one of these areas in specific moments. If I can look at a certain situation that arises in my life, and realize that I was saying, doing or thinking something that I may not have necessarily said, done or thought in the past, then I can fairly clearly see that I have grown.
Now there have certainly been various chunks in my life where I have missed out on growing because of one pesky trait: fear. I was afraid to grow because I realized that in order to grow, I had to do the scariest thing known to mankind (or at least to a young girl already battling all the already existing pressures of society for her demographic). I would have to break outside of my comfort zone and risk failing. I had to actually make the conscious decision to risk getting ridiculed, making a fool of myself, being judged, coming up short, or I could decide to wake up every morning and participate in a schedule that is completely comfortable, effortless and safe. And I could probably be relatively happy! But would I be as happy as I could be? Would I wonder if happiness stretched further into a state of joyful being? Would I feel fulfilled? I’ll admit that there are many times when this safe comfortability seems like the right choice. The side of me that is an introvert who spends her time in public tripping over her own feet and saying “thanks, you too!” to a waiter telling me to enjoy my meal, thinks this is an easy choice. The side of me that has experienced the thrills of leaping outside this comfort zone; however, knows better. The way she sees it, comfortability is synonymous with mediocrity and growth will NEVER be a fruit of either.
The other day I was driving to visit a client. I was belting a Bruce Springsteen song with the window down and the icy wind whipping my hair back. I had a big ol’ smile across my face. I suddenly turned down the music, zipped up the window and had a realization in one of those rare moments of clarity I occasionally get. I thought really hard about the situation at hand. I was driving to see a client who was about 45 years older than me who had suffered a lifetime of alcoholism and domestic abuse, and a whole slew of other issues that result from these two things. She spent the majority of her time being angry and depressed. Talk about an uncomfortable scenario! She was a different age, race, culture and background. Not to mention she lived in one of the more rundown apartment buildings in Syracuse. A few years ago, and even before joining FrancisCorps, I can safely say that I would not have been doing what I was doing. At the slight chance I would’ve agreed to do it, I would probably be shaking with my heart just about pumping out of my chest. I would’ve looked for any excuse not to knock on that door. I can tell you I certainly wouldn’t be singing along to “Thunder Road.” It was in this moment that I could clearly see the answer as to why I wasn’t feeling all the aforementioned nerves. It was because this situation that would have previously been outside my comfort zone, no longer was! My comfort zone had grown without me even knowing it! I thought about all the smaller leaps I had taken throughout the year up to this point that had widened this zone. Sometimes, even the tiniest bit of growth happens after what seems to be a great deal of discomfort or hurt. Some of the most painful times in my life have produced the largest amounts of growth in me, and I would probably endure those hard times all over again if it meant I ended up exactly where I am today.
I’ll let you all in on a huge secret. There is another g word that is an essential player in the game of growth. This is grace. I need the grace to be able to trust that if I take a huge step off the edge of my comfort cliff, I will be caught and won’t fall to a rocky death. Without grace, I would not have the courage to even take a little peek over. The lucky thing about grace is that I can ask for it at any point and it never runs out. Grace is the gift that keeps on giving and that right there is the sole reason as to why no person, thing or situation will ever be able to fully stop me, or anybody else from growing.
Elizabeth is an Outreach Worker at Downtown Cathedral Emergency and Hospitality Services, and was a Youth Mentor at the Bishop Foery Foundation. Visit our service sites page to learn more about Elizabeth’s current site and others we offer.