Growth Cycles: The Breakdown Comes Before the Breakthrough

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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I don’t know if there is a name for this in-between time. The summer is clearly over, but autumn hasn't quite taken hold yet. Here in Eastern Pennsylvania, the leaves have just started to turn withering shades of reds and yellows. The tilt of the earth has tipped over a couple notches in the last couple of weeks, so that the sunlight hits you at a noticeably different slant. I can tell, things are starting to die. I can feel it in my soul. As I stepped into the garage this morning on my way to work, some kind of ominous despair rose up and gripped me by the throat, just as I was getting into the car. I froze for a moment and stared the thing down. Then I swallowed it hard, and got on with my day. Where did that come from? Maybe this unease has to do with my daughter, who has gone off to her first year of college. I am worried about her. Or maybe it’s an aftershock from the trauma of turning fifty a few months ago. The loss of my youth, and all that. There are also some big changes going on at work. We are in the midst of an enormous organizational transformation, which is just a fancy way to say that we’re messing around with how we do things. What used to work isn't working so well anymore, so we're making changes. It’s complicated. And a little chaotic. That morose shadow in the garage may have been a creeping acknowledgement of what’s dying. One thing is ending, and the other hasn’t yet begun. I'm in-between. Jonas Salk, the inventor of the polio vaccine, developed a model long ago to explain this bewildering transition period. It's called the S-curve. He originally used it to describe the rise and fall of biological life forms, famously noting what should be obvious: growth is not linear - it's cyclical. Whether it is a one-celled organism, or a an entire civilization, all life is marked by the same recurring patterns of growth, maturity, decline, and then this in-between potential - for either death, or renewal and reinvention.

This concept is equally relevant to an individual’s spiritual development, or a business, or a marriage. After a period of growth, we plateau, and eventually start to disintegrate. The only way to keep growing is to let go of the old and wander around for a while until we latch on to what's next, which involves the creation of new strategies, structures, or systems. And then start all over again. But that in-between time - when one curve is ending and a new one is starting up - can be rough, filled with resistance, chaos, uncertainty, darkness. Death. Yeah, that’s probably what I was feeling when I got in the car this morning. I've been reading Parker Palmer, who says we should pretty much embrace these periods of aimless obscurity. "By allowing something to die when it's time is due," he says, "we create the conditions under which new life can emerge." We'd like to think it's all up, up, up, but that's not the natural order of things. Life is a bumpy, spirally ride. Your company may be hitting a wall, or perhaps you're going through a career transition, or you might be seeing little doubt bubbles bursting all around your faith. It’s the same pattern: the chaos and confusion are just predecessors to your next breakthrough. The only way out is through. I've probably known this instinctively all along. That message, after all, is built right into the fabric of our revolving earth, the changing seasons, the story of our faith. Darkness may be standing me down, but new life is on the way. I just know that something good is about to happen.