Accepting the Challenge of Personal Growth

It has been a difficult week for the city of Nashville. The resignation of a mayor is fairly unprecedented. Our city certainly needs prayers and healing.

Whenever a scandal dominates the news, it becomes convenient and easy to focus on the problems of others. But Lent is actually a time of self-reflection and personal growth, reminiscent of Jesus’ time in the wilderness. In our culture, many are simply not up for the challenge. Why?

Personal growth is difficult and coming to terms with our own shortcomings and character flaws is always uncomfortable. Jesus asks a timeless question in the Sermon on the Mount: “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye but fail to recognize the log in your own eye?”

Jordan Peterson, a well-known Canadian Psychologist who taught at Harvard and now at the University of Toronto, recently published a fascinating new book: 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Random House). His fourth rule is this: “Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who somebody else is today.”

Sounds simple, but it’s not. We live in a culture of competition and ongoing comparison. Social media has taken this to new levels, constantly reminding us of what other people have that we do not. When we become preoccupied with the lives of others, we often think of our own as being inadequate. They got a new house. They got a new car. They went on an expensive vacation. Why can’t we do that?

Peterson advises, “Consult your resentment. It’s a revelatory emotion, for all its pathology. It’s part of an evil triad: arrogance, deceit, and resentment. Nothing causes more harm than this underworld Trinity.”

Of course, resentment comes in many forms but it becomes toxic very quickly. Everybody’s life is different. We all see the world through our own lens and experience. Is there inequality, injustice, and a lack of opportunity for many? Yes. That seems obvious. It provides a never-ending opportunity to serve others and show compassion. But when we become too obsessed with the lives of others, whether they have more or less, it blinds us to our own shortcomings and blessings.

Peterson’s sixth rule is also timely: “Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.” The trend in our culture is to do the exact opposite: focus on what’s wrong with everybody else to keep us distracted from the difficult task of personal growth and responsibility.

It also holds true that we point out in other people the very things we dislike about ourselves. That person is materialistic. That person is selfish. That person is irritable. That person is a liar. Peterson reminds us that we all have serious inner work to do. He says, “Start small. Are you working hard on your career, or even your job, or are you letting bitterness and resentment hold you back and drag you down? Have you made peace with your brother? Are you treating your spouse and your children with dignity and respect? Do you have habits that are destroying your health and well-being? Have you said what you need to say to your friends and family members?”

The difficult work of self-reflection and personal growth is often ignored in a culture that shuns responsibility, criticizes quickly, and blames others for everything. It is a disturbing trend that needs to change and that change begins with a long look into our own heart.


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