Grow Up! One Easy Step to Continual Growth and Inner Peace

Garden of Grace United Church of Christ, Columbia, S.C.
Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 12:20-33

Lest anyone believe the incredible notion that pastors are somehow perfect and have the secret to life, the universe and everything all figured out, let me begin by shattering that notion.

Recently, my life has been thrown into utter turmoil by a situation that, on the face of it, seems like an incredibly wonderful opportunity. I have been offered the opportunity to pursue my life’s dream – to have time to write. Now, I’ve made my living all of my adult years writing, so what’s the big deal, you might ask? Well, I’ve never actually been able to make time to write what I want to write. I’ve spent my whole life writing what others needed written. This is an opportunity for me to finally do what I want to do – write a book, or two, or three, or four. Sounds wonderful, right?

Well, there are always strings attached to stuff like that, right? I haven’t won the lottery or anything, so it’s not like I don’t have to make money to support myself, but my employer has graciously agreed to reduce my hours to allow me the time to pursue my dream. Again, sounds lovely, doesn’t it? But, of course, those strings are purse strings – a reduction in hours means a reduction in money.

Now, I can tell you quite candidly that one of my biggest fears in life is that I will not have enough money. I have been to therapy – I know the source of these fears, but often knowing the source of a problem makes it loom all the larger in our psyche. But, to allay my fear around money, I have done what any reasonable, well-educated, sane individual would do – I spent money on a lot of books about how to overcome fear about not having enough money. Perfectly reasonable, right? Remember, I told you that myth of pastors having it all together was going to be shattered.

In addition to a book buying binge, I have become quite addicted to something called Hay House Radio. For those who are not addicted to the world of self-help – Hay House is a publishing company that exclusively publishes books meant for people like me who rush out and buy books when they feel insecure about something. Whatever it is, you can find a handy book at Hay House that will help you out.

Here are just a few of their titles:

  • Unstoppable Me: Ten Ways to Soar Through Life
  • Five Steps for Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt (I might buy that one!)
  • Repotting: Ten Steps for Redesigning Your Life
  • Infinite Self: 33 Ways to Reclaim Your Inner Power (that must be longer than the other books)
  • Calm: A Proven Four-Step Process Designed Specifically for Women Who Worry
  • Squeeze the Day: 365 Ways to Bring JOY and JUICE into Your Life (I’m not making that one up, that’s an actual title) and, finally:
  • Five Steps to Becoming Taller and Better Looking

Okay, I made the last one up – there are actually ten steps.

After reading all those titles and listening to many, many broadcasts on Hay House Radio from the myriad of self-help gurus they have on the air, I began to get a little fed up. Listening to caller after caller go on about how they can’t get enough money, or they can’t get enough peace, or they can’t get enough this, or that, I just wanted to yell, “Grow up!” Of course, the only one who could hear me was the only one who really needed advice at that moment – me. And I thought that it was really good advice. Grow up! So, thanks to hours and hours of Hay House Radio, I’ve been inspired to write my own self-help guide. I’m calling it: “Grow Up: One Easy Step to Continual Growth and Inner Peace.”

Ah, now you’re thinking this is going to be a very short sermon – the usual Southern Baptist three point sermon has been boiled down to just one step – and not just that, but one EASY step. So, here it is – the One Easy Step to Continual Growth and Inner Peace.

Step One: You already know the answer.

Got it? Should I say it slower so you can write it down?

Step One: You already know the answer.

Okay, so that one step doesn’t sound all that easy, but you have put stuff like that in the title because it sells books. We’ll all take that step if it’s easy, now won’t we? We’re always looking for the easy step – the one idea, the one thought, the one solution that will solve all of our problems.

If that’s what you’re looking for, this is the step – but I’m sorry to tell you that it’s not easy. Anything worth having in life never comes easy. Anything worth having in this life comes with struggle. It comes with work, so, let’s start to unpack this one easy step and see where it takes us.

Step One: You already know the answer.

After spending all the money and time on books and enriching the lives of self-help gurus I finally realized that the only one with the answers to all of my problems is me. My biggest problem was that I was looking for the answer to all of my problems out there. I was looking in books, listening to radio talk shows, spending hours upon hours doing all that I could to not have to go inside and listen to myself. I wanted others to fix me. I wanted others to give me the answer. I wanted others to tell me it would be okay, that my life would work out, that my security blanket of money isn’t what life is all about.

I have to admit this – I called in to one of those shows. I spoke with a woman who billed herself as an “intuitive counselor” – sort of a psychic for psychos – who could read your future just by talking to you for 30 seconds. Well, I was hooked! This sounded just like the one easy step I needed. So, I called and I told her my dilemma – I’m scared to step out and live my dream of writing because it means I’ll be losing money. What did she tell me? Go for it!

She said, “I definitely see you writing books, but you’ll do some other stuff on the side, perhaps magazine writing.”

Imagine my elation! Outside confirmation of the answer that I already knew – I will write books and I’ll write other stuff on the side. Wow, she’s amazing – and all in about 30 seconds. But, you see, I had already done the easy step – I already knew the answer. How? Because I grew UP.

When we physically grow up what do we do? We become independent. We get jobs. We take responsibility for our own lives, for our own well-being. We’re no longer dependent on mom and dad – we’re able to look out for ourselves and make our own decisions.

But, what do we do when we grow up spiritually? We literally grow UP – we grow in the direction of God – and that’s a whole different kind of growth. Instead of growing independent, we grow more and more dependent. Instead of looking out for ourselves, we entrust our lives to God and let the Holy Spirit lead us, guide us and shield us.

When we grow up spiritually, we understand that we already know the answer, because we have the best self-help guru in the world living right here – inside of us. We have God living in our hearts. We have God filling our minds with her thoughts. We have God giving us the strength to get through each day, to overcome each new challenge, to breeze over each new hurdle. We have God giving us joy and inner peace as we continue to grow UP!

Jeremiah tells us that this is God’s covenant to us – we will have God’s law written on our hearts – we don’t have to have anyone from the outside teach us anything. We already know the answer, because it is written on our hearts. God has inscribed everything we’ll ever need to know or learn, right here. Looking outside of ourselves for the answer is futile – but it makes for good book titles – and for good sales figures, since everyone believes the answer is somewhere out there.

For the longest time I have resisted beginning a meditation practice. I’ve read plenty of books about meditation, but I just couldn’t get myself started, and I finally figured out why. I was looking at meditation as a way to get something – namely inner peace. But, one of those books contained a revelation for me when I read that you don’t do meditation to get anything, but to cultivate what you already have.

Step One: You already know the answer.

Cultivate what you already have and you will experience continual growth and inner peace. You don’t need books. You don’t need self-help gurus. You don’t need anyone to tell you what life is all about. You already know the answer – you just need to be still long enough to let it come to you.

But, despite the misleading title of my book, don’t think any of this will be easy. Growth is never easy. We don’t talk about growing pains for nothing. Growing hurts and as Jesus tells us, it can often feel like death, but unless that kernel of wheat falls to the ground, it cannot produce new growth.

To grow, we must die to many of our old ways. We must die to feelings of anger, resentment, jealousy and hatred. We must die to our fears, to our old habits or addictions that keep us from growing UP. We have to die to any emotion, any mental or physical habit that holds us back. And that’s not easy. It feels like dying, because it is a form of death – a part of us must die and often what’s dying feels like a very important and integral part of us.

One of my continual demons is anger. I’ve spent the better part of my adult life being very, very angry. I blame my father, of course – because that’s really the easy step – blaming others for our problems. Looking outside of ourselves to point the finger at someone else. But, while my anger may have stemmed from some action my father took when I was a child – it’s been my choice to love and nurture that anger. Anger was important to me – it was often my reason for getting out of bed in the morning – knowing that at some point I would be expressing that anger and really enjoying giving someone a piece of my mind. Anger was comfortable. Anger never disappointed me. Anger felt good, it felt powerful. But, anger also jeopardized other important things in my life, like relationships.

I sought outside help to cure my anger, but it wasn’t until I went inside that I realized that I already knew the answer. I would never be free from my anger until I forgave my father. Until that kernel of anger fell to the ground and died, new growth would never be possible. When that kernel of anger finally fell, when I finally made the inward journey to forgive my father – love appeared where anger had once lived. Do I never get angry now? Of course not – growth is always a process. But I’m better than I was, and I continue to grow because that kernel of anger has died and brought forth love, compassion, forgiveness and understanding.

What continues to keep you from growing UP and enjoying continual growth and inner peace? What are you clinging to that needs to die so that new growth can spring forth?

Step One: You already know the answer.

Stop looking outside of yourself for anything – for happiness, for fulfillment, for joy, for peace – it’s not there. No matter how many books you read, no matter how many self-help gurus you consult, you’ll never find the answer. There is nothing outside of yourself for you to get – there is only what is it inside, waiting to be cultivated. Grow UP and take that one easy step to continual growth and inner peace.

But, don’t take it from me. I’m just a pastor. You already know the answer.