Last Sunday, Pastor Curt concluded week four of our series A Healthier You, and spoke about measuring our progress. If you missed the service, be sure to check out Bridgewood’s Facebook page to watch the video, or listen to the podcast here on the church website.
We generally measure our progress through our senses, assuming that any and all progress is observable. For example, the more we diet and exercise, the more weight we see come off, or the more muscle we see gained. We can literally watch our progress in the mirror. Career progress is observed with promotion, pay raise, peer acceptance, or job satisfaction. Relationship progress is measured by communication, intimacy, or trust. When we can observe and measure our progress, we feel confident that we have indeed progressed. Building a home, or a body, or fixing a damaged vehicle, all have observable progress. But what happens when we have put in considerable work, and the results are nowhere to be found? What happens when we cannot see or feel any progress in our lives? In those circumstances, it is easy to ask the question: am I making any progress?
In his message, Pastor Curt used the example of renovating the upstairs pastoral offices to illustrate our understanding of progress. In an effort to reorganize the offices according to their new needs, the staff exchanged offices with one another, moving all of their stuff out to the central area until it could be moved to its new destination. At that point, the staff considered the state of the offices a mess. And it was a mess. One cannot deny a ton of desks, papers, and computer equipment stacked in a pile is a mess. However, the mess occurred during a time of transition. We tend to forget transitions are messy, and transitions are not the destination. The mess is not the destination; the mess is the transition. Once the period of transition was over, all of the offices were organized again, and the mess was gone. And so we see from this example, we might have an incorrect or limited understanding of progress and its constitution.
I want to give you another idea that might serve to change your understanding of progress, and I’ll begin by asking you this question: is progress always linear? To be more specific, does progress always look like the example below?
Is the place you want to be always in a straight line across from the place you currently are? And does progress always look like traveling across that line, moving at a measurable pace from A to B? Are you always at some point between A and B, and is progress always closer to B than it is to A? I think this is how most of us define progress, and I think it explains why we get frustrated. It makes logical sense to think I would be closer to B than I was before, especially after I have put in a lot of work. Often, that is not the case. In fact, many times we feel closer to A than when we started!
As a recovering addict, I understand this frustration. I understand feeling like I have gone nowhere, feeling as if I’d ran ten miles on a treadmill instead of the open road. And I’d like to offer you an idea that has helped me tremendously in my recovery and in my daily life. What if progress is not linear? What if it looks like this:
Doesn’t the above illustration look like a mess? But what if the mess is exactly what we need? What if in order to get where you are trying to go, you first have to go up, down, left, right, over, under, above, below, through, behind, in front, and around A and B? I think we get so upset and discouraged by what appears to be a lack of progress because our attention is in the wrong place. We so often measure our progress circumstantially, as if our external situation is an adequate measure of the journey. If we could stop focusing on where we currently are, we could focus on the destination. We need to stop looking at a particular point in the transition, and keep our eyes on the journey toward the destination. While a particular point on that line might be behind A it is still on the journey that leads to B.
Pastor Curt said it this way: “Progress happens in us before it happens through us.” This is important to note because it draws our attention away from the external, and directs it to the internal. I’ve heard pastor and author John Ortberg say it another way. He said, “God cares more about the person you become than the circumstances you inhabit.” Our progress is not measured by where we are, but rather where we are going; and it is not measured by who we are, but rather who we are becoming. And think of the difference between become, becoming, and became. The first is hypothetical, the second is ongoing, and the third is complete. Perhaps we would be better served thinking of progress as the second, becoming. Perhaps progress is better viewed as ongoing.
Thus, we cannot think of progress as a point in time, but an ongoing process. Progress is an ever-changing transitional period, and you know what? If we are lucky, we never reach the destination. Because if the destination is reached, the progress must be done. Think of it rationally: you cannot have progress without movement.
We are infatuated with the destination. We want to be done and finished. We crave conclusion, and we crave measurable progress toward that conclusion. But I feel we do ourselves a disservice by always striving for the endgame. I’ve heard people say it a number of ways, but I typically hear it like this: “do not be so concerned with getting to your destination that you miss out on the journey.” My personal favorite, courtesy of Perry Noble, goes like this: “if you’re not dead, you’re not done.” I hope this does not discourage you from change, but instead liberates and inspires you toward it. The transitional period is never over, and we can always be better today than we were yesterday. All it takes is one step at a time.
We may not always see it, but we are making progress. You might not always see the exact steps that got you where you are today, but you can probably recognize a difference in the person you were one, five, or ten years ago. Or you might need a catalyst before you can recognize your progress. A situation might need to arise in which your response shows you the extent of you progress. But even if you cannot find something measurable about your progress, do not be discouraged from your next step.
The two primary things that discourage us and halt our progress are distractions and falls. When we get distracted, we divert our attention from the current journey, and direct it to another. Or if we get discouraged by a seeming lack of progress, we give up and choose another journey. Falls are especially good at causing us to give up. Our mistakes and failings make us believe that we are not making any progress at all. If I keep falling, I must not be going anywhere, right?
Proverbs 24:16 says, “The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again.” I do not have any way to guarantee the progress in my life or your life, but what I can guarantee is this: a fall can only stop your progress if you don’t get back up from it. Pastor Curt said it this way: “the only one who can stop our progress is us.” He also said, “pain is part of the process of progress.” Do not believe that your pain is an indication of a lack of progress because it is actually the opposite. Your pain is evidence of progress because it means you are still moving. It means you have not given up yet.
Falling is a good thing, and it should be celebrated because it means you took a step. If you do not take a step, there is no potential to fall. And no matter how many times you fall, if you can get back up again, God will be there to bandage you, and equip you to take the next step.
Get back up. Take another step. Fall.