This week I had the 46th session with a coaching client. We started our journey together a year ago. This is the longest I've coached a client - 46 sessions! What has impressed me with this client's experience has been that it's only been in the last month that more visible break-throughs have been taking place. I have seen profound transformation in his way of thinking about himself and life and how he's showing up in the world. He has much more clarity as well as fulfillment these days.
My typical coaching approach has involved working with clients sometimes for a month, most often for 3 months, sometimes for 6 months (all involving weekly sessions). I've helped people through life transitions, establishing personal dreams, developing strategic plans for business or personal issues, helping them achieve clarity about their strengths and life purpose, defining a new personal faith. All very helpful journeys, according to their personal testimonies.
But in this case, we've continued for 46 sessions - mostly at his request - and certainly I've agreed with the value. But significant change has happened lately that has caused me to realize some very significant realities about life growth as it relates to this lengthier journey. Thought I'd share three of them with you in this week's blog post.
One, personal growth takes time.
Regardless of your view of God and how God operates in the messy human process of growth, God rarely seems to simply "snap his finger" to transform people. Pray as hard as you might, growth isn't based upon a magical formula that occurs in the "twinkling of an eye." Genuine change takes time - it doesn't matter what the personal or relational issue, meaningful transformation simply takes time.
There's a reason why so many spiritual wisdom traditions call spirituality a "journey." Personal growth is a process, a path. Even Jesus called himself "the way." Notice he didn't say "the point" or "the moment." He's the way. He's describing the process of spiritual growth - becoming a follower on a path which involves a journey that takes place over time, in fact over one's entire lifetime. It's as though he's saying, "Follow me. Watch me. Consider me, what I do and how I do it. Walk with me and observe, reflect upon, question, weigh, and wrestle with it all. Practice what you observe with me. Learn how to lean into it. Be a follower on the journey." Those kinds of experiences don't happen over night. There's no simple formula. Personal growth takes time.
Two, personal growth involves developing new ways of thinking.
No wonder it takes time. Our thoughts create our realities. In fact, some experts say there is no difference between cause and effect - our thoughts produce our experiences (and vice versa) simultaneously. What we think, is. So if we want to change our experiences, we have to change our thoughts. Our thoughts are the fabric of all the stories we tell ourselves and others about ourselves, about others, about all of life, even about God. Our stories (what we think and say about all of this) are the sum total of the thoughts we string together to describe what we think we're seeing and observing. Our thoughts create the lens through which we see life. So if something isn't working well or serving us well in our lives, we have to evaluate carefully and honestly our lens (what thoughts we're stringing together to describe what we think is reality).
And if that lens is hazy or dirty or smudged or cracked, that impacts what we see. This is why spiritual traditions describe the journey of spirituality as the process of cleaning the lens or even changing the lens through which we look.
St. Paul described this process: "11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely." (1 Corinthians 13)
He likens seeing through a cloudy lens as being a child. When we're kids, our ability to see and understand the realities of life are limited. Kids have nightmares or bad dreams about things that aren't real. And many of us adults still have that limitation. :)
I remember having nightmares as a kid about gorillas. I would wake up scared to death that the gorilla was in my room ready to eat me up. My mom says she would often awaken in the middle of the night feeling this "presence" beside the bed and when she opened her eyes she would see me standing there (still asleep) but white as a ghost. Rather unnerving for a parent (not to mention this little child). A child's ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy is not well developed. Kids are seeing imperfectly through "a cloudy mirror," as St. Paul put it.
As I've grown up, I don't have nightmares about gorillas anymore (thank goodness!). But I do have more sophisticated fears that can equally incapacitate me at times and which sometimes prove to be equally fantastical (not based on reality, not true). My gorillas have turned into fears about my worthiness, my ability to succeed, whether people will accept me or admire me, etc., etc. I've at times gone into situations with other people completely sure that they would judge me or criticize me because of my past, only to end up experiencing just the opposite from them. I almost allowed my "seeing through the cloudy mirror" to keep me from showing up in that group which would have caused me to miss out on a wonderful experience.
Kids don't understand the nuances in human relationships - life tends to be more black and white. Maturation, human development and growth, is about learning the process of seeing more clearly, and sometimes of even having to change the lens because the lens is simply not true.
Notice that St. Paul describes his current knowing as "impartial and incomplete." But he looks to that time when he will know everything "completely" (fully, accurately, wisely, without limitations that are self-imposed or otherwise), which he describes as the way God sees us. The point he's making is that that path between those two times (from unknowing to knowing) isn't bridged instantaneously. Personal growth takes time because it involves learning how to think more maturely and wisely, more divinely. We have to grow up, to develop. "By beholding, we become changed." Are we beholding truth and reality or old "truth" and unreality? Change the lens to behold clearly.
Three, personal growth necessitates personal patience and profound acceptance. I'm getting better at giving myself some slack for the lack of perfection in my life. That doesn't mean I'm choosing not to take self responsibility. In fact, I'm taking more ownership for my life with all its foibles and dirty lens and my determined responsibility to make necessary changes then ever before. But I'm learning to give myself more patience and self-acceptance along the way.
One author I was reading this week said that the most important gift we can give ourselves and others is acceptance. It's a counter-intuitive choice. Contrary to popular opinion, accepting doesn't prohibit or stifle growth, it actually fosters it. "Accepting people as they are has the miraculous affect of helping them improve" (Marianne Williamson, Return To Love, p. 162). In fact, this kind of acceptance is the most divine act we can engage in. That's what Paul was saying earlier - God knows us completely - and as the next verse says, God loves us just as completely. "13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love." (1 Corinthians 13)
The power of divine grace is that God considers us perfectly acceptable every step along the way of our journey into greater wholeness and maturity and development (take a look at one of my favorite bible texts, Hebrews 10:14): Perfectly acceptable to God while we're in the process of becoming more and more whole.
That attitude of profound acceptance toward us is what empowers us with the courage to continue the journey of growth, to keep learning and struggling and becoming, to changing the lens so that we see ourselves-others-and God more clearly and perfectly, to being courageous enough to let go of the old stories we almost immediately tell ourselves when something negative happens to us, to changing our "childish" thoughts into more mature and loving ones. We end up showing up with way more love in all our relationships and life experiences.
Personal growth necessitates personal patience and profound acceptance.
My forty-six client sessions have been such an amazing learning experience for me. My client is not at the same place where he was a year ago. His old paralyzing stories - his cloudy mirror - are changing and being replaced with the truth about himself and the promise of his profound potential. There is tremendous value in allowing someone else into your life for such a long, specifically directed period of time. That's the power of having a coach or other trusted person to help guide the journey.
And the journey has helped to change me, too. Forty-six sessions!