A few years ago I had the pleasure of moderating a panel of authors at Midsouthcon. Each time I participate in these events, I walk away with some new and challenging thought. In this particular panel, one I can no longer recall the purpose of, the author made an unexpected statement. Referencing Harry Potter she said, “As a character, he did not have any personal growth.”
“What?”, I thought. “No personal growth? The main protagonist of the story?”
Taking it further, she pointed to a character who did experience growth – Neville Longbottom. Even as a distant follower of the series I was somewhat surprised. Surprised, that is, until she offered an explanation for her assessment. “Growth,” she said, “requires a point of decision on the part of the character.” Rather than simply acting or being acted upon, the character makes an active choice to change and then follows through with that change and becomes something more in the process. Her definition of growth has remained with me ever since.
Strangely enough, I see that definition to be as true for living, breathing people as it is for characters in a story. In order to experience growth, we must face our blemishes, our struggles, our bad habits; And we must make a conscious choice to change ourselves for the better. It requires a willingness to acknowledge the problem and seek transformation. We grow when we face fear and strive to act with courage in the face of our fears. We grow when we choose discipline and fight urges to waste time. We grow when we decide to slow down, and, as one man did, we make ourselves sit looking up at the sky for an hour a day until it no longer feels uncomfortable to rest. We grow when we decide to grow.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to sit down with Mark Horrocks of Habitat for Hope. As I laid out a vision for aiding homeless families, he shared advice from the experience he’s garnered over years of helping others. In that advice he shared a warning. He told me that he saw in me a heart for people. One that would help everyone if it could. Because of that heart, he said “Beware those who will seek to take advantage of you.” He counseled me then to test those seeking aid, and to strive to help only those who were ready for change. I believe the characteristic he was was pointing to is in part this defining characteristic of growth. It is those who recognize the need for change and are decided and firm in their resolve to pursue transformation who can be helped.
Recent observations and leadership experiences have driven this truth home. I cannot lead people where they are not willing to go. I believe that in helping the hurting, we need to be a guide, but we cannot guide someone where they will not go. Dragging them along may show some change, but in the end it will fall short. In order for healing to take place, their decisions and motivations must be their own. So, in pursuit of shalom and the wholeness and healing of hurting people, we intend to help those ready to accept help and carry through with the guidance they’re given. We intend to help those ready for change.