The growth of spiritual life: a Mother's Day reflection
By Gloria Avent
I don’t always find it to be so, but this Lent was a challenging season of self-examination that continues. However, in a recent moment of quiet, the Lord impressed upon me a very uplifting analogy between our spiritual lives and the physical pattern of conception, pregnancy and birth.
First there is an encounter we know has taken place (our conversion). Yet we are not immediately aware of the impact of it. In time, we begin to notice changes that indicate there is a new life growing within us (the Holy Spirit).
These changes are subtle at first but increase as time goes by. Our desires begin to change. We are no longer living for ourselves alone. There is another person to consider when making choices, whose well-being we do not want to bring to harm. We take better care of ourselves by eating a healthy diet, exercising and resting (Bible reading and study, prayer and listening). We consult with a doctor to make sure that our growth is going in the right direction (fellowship, corporate worship, spiritual direction). We prepare space in our home and learn about how to nurture this other life (setting aside time for the spiritual disciplines). Finally, this presence becomes so profound in us that we must allow it to manifest itself into the world. It has taken on a will of its own and we cannot hold it back (evangelism).
This growth and birthing process is often fraught with struggle. We may find it difficult to accept that we cannot turn back from our initial encounter. We recognize that we are responsible to and for another, and we may mourn our previous way of life and fear the inevitable changes we must make (no wonder it is called mo(u)rning sickness!). However, despite this painful struggle between two wills, our selfish desires and fears are confronted by the more powerful force of self-sacrificing love.
We are like Mary; Jesus has come to dwell in us and we are never the same again. Through our encounter with the living God and the realization of His presence within us, we begin to no longer simply live for ourselves but for Him, bearing fruit beyond our natural abilities. Yet this fruit is also the expression of our unique gifts. Our truest, most authentic selves are reborn through this new life, which bears the fruit of the will of the Father in those who encounter it.
Speaking from personal experience, I can truly say that for some of us, it’s an extremely long pregnancy, labor and delivery! This is, perhaps, the most striking thing about Mary; her choice to surrender to a plan other than hers seems so immediate. Surely, most of us have not had such a dramatic encounter with God, yet the scriptures tell us the truth about what God has also done for us:
This is how God showed His love among us; He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him (1 John 4:9).
For God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable (Romans 11:29). He must increase; I must decrease (John 3:30).
But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
As we enjoy the Easter season and move toward Pentecost, may we believe in His love, accept His gifts and call quickly, and recognize His grace and strength to empower us to follow Him!
Gloria Avent is a lifelong South Carolinian and has been a member of St. Philip’s Church, Charleston, since 2005. Her long career as a church musician, volunteer and mother prepared her well for a midlife move into full-time ministry as a pastor’s wife. In recent years, she enjoys spending time with friends and family (especially her two trandsons) and writing for herself and others.