Here’s the Biggest Obstacle to Personal Growth

personal growth

Having counseled hundreds of people over four decades, I can’t escape the fact that people seldom genuinely want to grow.

I can’t tell you how many clients and parishioners have had the solution to their pain within reach, but instead chose to prevent the healing that was readily available.

When I began counseling people, I mistakenly assumed they would want to grow toward wholeness and maturity, but I have seen people repeatedly choose divorce over healing. I have seen them reject redemptive change in favor of a superficial alteration that will do nothing to deepen their growth into wholeness. They remain stuck.

Most people just want to get by.

They settle for a short-term, stop-gap solution that avoids healing and fails to address the deep hurt and losses of life. No matter what our natural response might be, I am convinced that we are created to grow even though much in our lives works against our growth.

Why is this fundamental aspect of life so often thwarted? Why are so few of us willing to do the necessary work to push through the barriers that impede the way to maturity?

The process of growing into wholeness is messy and brings its own discomfort.

Deep in the psyche of the first-world perspective, it seems that our built-in urge to grow is stalled by the more immediate desire to be comfortable, to be safe, to be sure and certain. In other words, we want to be in control no matter what it costs us. And as we will see, it costs us dearly.

When the pursuit of comfort determines how we live, a move to grow toward wholeness will merely be tolerated and endured (perhaps in the wake of crisis). But it will not be sought out. And even when we experience a moment of genuine growth toward maturity due to loss, grief, betrayal, or some other setback, we hope the process of growth will soon be over.

We want more than ever to return to the seeming ease of being in control of our life. We want to complete the process of suffering so we can put it behind us and return to the patterns and routines that pass for safety and comfort.

We are driven to resolve issues, and usually, it’s a good thing to want closure. When you sign up to take a class, you want to complete it. When you enter a race, you want to cross the finish line. However, this mindset overlooks the fact that we are alive. As long as we are alive, things can’t be finished. There is no endpoint. There is no graduation ceremony that certifies we have arrived.

Living things are always growing. If they are not growing, they are dead.

Growth is a reality, while quick resolution remains a tantalizing fiction. We create our own confusion when we overlay the idea of completion on organic growth. It will never work, but that doesn’t stop us from trying.

The reality of life is that you can’t force any outcome to conform to your will. My dog serves as a simple example. She will never stop barking at squirrels, no matter how much it annoys me. Working with a living being calls for an entirely different set of interactions and large amounts of acceptance.

This article is an excerpt from Discipline of Disturbance: Stop Waiting for Life to be Easy by Hud McWilliams

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Hud McWilliams
Hud McWilliams has been a passionate teacher and counselor for 50 years. In those years he has been a professor in several universities, a senior pastor, licensed psychologist, prophet of culture, assessor for international church planting organizations, seminary dean and presently an adjunct professor at Denver Theological Seminary.