There is a wonderful little book entitled “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” by Carol Dweck, a psychologist from Stanford. She offers the idea of two different mindsets–fixed mindset versus growth mindset. She defines a fixed mindset as one in which an individual thinks in absolutes. They believe themselves to be a certain way and do not believe they can change. This is recognizable in the counseling profession. People come in to address a problem and want ‘change but no change.’ They want to feel better but do not want to do anything different. Another example of a fixed mindset is viewing situations as insurmountable. An individual may have tried to address it and the problem was not resolved, so they give up. This can be something as small as lost glasses to something as large as disease. It’s a rigid perspective that limits solution-seeking or alternative points of view.
The other mindset–a growth mindset–is a perception of possibility. When faced with a problem, a person may first use the tried and true method, but when that doesn’t work, the juices start flowing and they begin to look for alternatives. Rather than see it as failure or an impossibility, they dust themselves off and go at it again and again.
Good idea, but what does it have to do with spiritual growth? The key concept is that of choice. God has created us with the capacity to grow and develop. God gave us freedom to choose if we are going to be static or if we are going to seek to be open to God’s shaping. We never arrive, but we do have the freedom to strive toward perfection. The paradox is that the more we allow God to use us, the freer we become. We choose to strive to be like Christ.
I spoke with a friend this morning who’s lost vision in one eye and is gradually losing it in the other. He can no longer drive, so I was taking him home from our morning prayer group. His wife drops him off and one of us drives him home. We talked of how he lost his vision and what he had learned. He is taking a Life Learning class at Vanderbilt on the topic of Cell Regeneration. He shared that he had learned that when the ocular nerve is cut in frogs and mice, it quickly grows back. Unfortunately, that is not the case with humans. When the ocular nerve in humans is damaged, it cannot be repaired. The loss of sight is permanent. The tradeoff is that humans have a higher level of brain function and can accommodate the loss in other ways. He joked that he was fine with the human side of things and would rather not have the brain capacity of a frog.
This is a wonderful example of a growth mindset. I know it is an understatement to say that this has not been easy for him. Losing one’s sight is an overwhelming tragedy. Yet it would be more tragic still if he withdrew from the world and focused on his disability. He does have that choice.
Another instance of this mindset is when we are faced with the opportunity to forgive. I often speak at churches around the country and include forgiveness in my presentations whenever I have the opportunity. It is central to incarnational living and a significant factor in the character of the church. It too is about choice—about having a growth mindset. As a follower of Christ, I know both by his example and by what he commanded that I am to forgive. He does not say “after they have asked for forgiveness” or “after they have changed.” His words on the cross were “forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” They were killing him!!! It was not accidental that he was there. Yet, he forgave them. Whether the hurt has been intentional or not, I can choose to forgive a person. I may have to ask God to help me let go of that hurt every minute or every hour at a time, but God will not leave me on my own in this. God helps me forgive. My, how this could change the church! Satan keeps us bound by keeping our focus on our hurts and disagreements rather than on our opportunity to serve the world.
This is consistent with the recognition that the God of the universe is with me each moment. It helps me move away from what Parker Palmer refers to as functional atheism– the idea that even though I do believe in God, I act as if I am on my own. And in those times that I cannot capture my thoughts and move away from a fixed mindset, I invite God into that situation and offer it to God’s care and keeping. God is faithful and will continue to shape me into the best possible instrument of the kingdom. God will expand the possibilities.
There is a fine line here. It is easy for this to become another “should.” Yet that is not my intent. Life is hard and the suffering with which many deal is terrible. I do not in any way want to negate the anguish some may be going through. Sometimes the best we can do is keep our heads down and just hold on for dear life. What I share is an invitation into a freedom that is beyond us. It takes a great deal of emotional energy to feel defeated or trapped or like a failure. When I give the situation into God’s keeping, I am free to move beyond it and open my eyes to the possibilities. Nor am I advocating that we go around “whistling a happy tune.” It is about giving each situation to God, recognizing that God loves me without limit, and moving forward. God will grant the peace that passes understanding.
There is no promise of an easy life for those of faith. It takes only a look into the lives of the servants of God in Scripture to see that they did not walk a trouble-free path. What is promised is a relationship with our God who loves us in a way that we cannot begin to understand. So, when God brings to my awareness that I have a fixed mindset, I let go. I trust that God, who knows me more intimately than I know myself, who will give me a different lens–a lens worthy of the Kingdom.
Grace and peace to you,