There is an idiom that interests me. An idiom is a commonly used expression whose meaning does not relate to the literal meaning of it’s words. For instance, over the moon has nothing to do with the moon or going over it. Rather it refers to a feeling of extreme delight and happiness. Hit the hay doesn’t have anything to do with farming but rather it indicates an individual is going to bed.
The idiom running through my head today is “nothing grows in a vacuum.” When said, one is not referring to a household machine that sucks dirt and grime off floors and out of carpets. Nor is one talking about growth, such as plants, happening inside the suction of said household appliance.
It simply means that growth does not happen in isolation without connection or interaction with people, places or actions. For instance, if I want to grow in my love for others that will not happen in isolation. I have to actually rub shoulders with other humans. There has to be the opportunity to not love in order to love. The same is true for every fruit of the spirit. They can’t grow in isolation. Or as the saying goes, growth doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
The last year has been odd for many reasons. For introverts, like me, staying home was not that difficult. I missed social interactions at a certain level, but nothing like my extrovert friends who thrive on people. “A little dab’ll do ya” aptly describes my social needs.
As my community is opening up and there is more face-to-face interaction, I realize how little time I have spent the last year being annoyed with other humans. How could I be? I am not around them.
That also means I did not get to practice my skills of making allowance for the faults of others (Colossians 3:13) or thinking of others better than myself or taking an interest in someone beside myself (Philippians 2:3-4).
Basically, isolation put growth on hold. At least in relating to those outside my family bubble. There were areas that the Spirit worked on in me that didn’t require the rubbing of shoulders with others. Now I have the chance to practice those skills in real life situations.
When my daughter was in nursing school, she practiced techniques on machines meant to look, act, feel and respond like humans. But they weren’t humans. At the end of the day, if she killed the robot due to human error and carelessness, it didn’t matter. Her grade might have suffered, but it didn’t involve a human life.
For ten years she has practiced her skills on real live human beings. It matters if she makes a mistake. Not all mistakes are fatal, but she still has the constant awareness that this is a human life.
My point is this: I won’t grow by reading, memorizing, studying or meditating on being loving, kind, generous, patient, etc. I can learn in my head what it looks like but until I practice it on another human being in a real life situation, I won’t grow in that skill. I don’t like to fail. Some days, I don’t even like to do hard things. It is on those days that I wish for quarantine.
But that isn’t what we were created for — we were created for relationship, not only with other humans but with our Creator. It is in rubbing shoulders, encountering others with all their messy weirdness that we are transformed to look more and more like Christ.
17For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.2 Corinthians 3:17-18
17For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.2 Corinthians 4:17-18
I don’t know who this is for today. Maybe just for me. Whoever you are, you’ve got this! Your present trouble is small and won’t last long but it is producing the best qualities in you and those will last forever!