My daughter Adelaide took forever to talk. She developed her own minion-like language, hilarious and adorable, but when it came to actual words, there weren’t many. When our pediatrician would ask us at a well visit how many words Adelaide had, I would round up, quite a bit, and we’d still fall short. I’m a chatty person, and Adelaide was hearing one billion words a day at home, but she wasn’t saying them. I wasn’t sure what she understood, and it made me panicky: Am I not doing a good job? Is something wrong?
In the name of thorough first-time-mom-ness, I consulted a speech therapist and a developmental therapist. It was a whole six-month process, but ultimately, they said she was fine -- probably a little behind, but in process. “She’ll surprise you,” they said.
And then one day: “I am Moana of Motunui. You will board my boat and sail across the sea!”
My jaw dropped.
Another day: “Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid. For the Lord your God is with you.”
Now I look at this precious 3.5-year-old, and I can often have full conversations with her. It amazes me! Blank stares replaced with full-on confession: “Mommy got mad at me today because I pushed Buddy.” It was a process over time, and eventually Adelaide found her voice. She’s still finding it, and as she inches along, I realize that I need to place less focus on milestones and more focus on the tiny centimeters of process.
I was reading in Deuteronomy earlier this month, and one random part got stuck in my mind. The Israelites had been traveling through the wilderness for forty years, and Moses was reminding them of their past, reminding them of the law, reminding them of God’s faithfulness. They were at the brink of the thing they’d been waiting for, the Promised Land, and Moses had yet another word of caution, this time regarding the fearsome enemies who currently dwelled in the Israelites’ future home: “You shall not be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God. The Lord your God will clear away these nations before you little by little. You may not make an end of them at once” (Deuteronomy 7:21-22).
I decided to carry those words around with me: “little by little.” I’m trying to avoid that frustrating Christian tendency in which we take a tiny piece of scripture and force it to apply to our lives, so I wanted to spend time with this concept, see if it was true just for a specific people at a specific time or if it was true beyond that.
So I felt my way through the idea like Play-Doh, stretched it and rolled it out. I folded them up in my pocket like a wrinkled grocery list, pulling it out every now and then to consider the words. I held it up to what I know about other parts of scripture, and now I feel sure: “Little by little” is an approach that God often chooses for us, one that we tend to overlook, one that often reveals and requires a deeper faith than you’d guess.
We like stories of sudden transformation: Paul to Saul, the demon-possessed man to well-spoken citizen, dead Lazarus to living Lazarus. But the stories that God writes are not all made out of the same stuff. They sing different notes and reveal different things. Many of us do not have stories of sudden transformation.
"MOST OF US ARE A SLOW WORK IN PROGRESS, ONE STEP IN THE WILDERNESS AT A TIME, ONE HARD-LEARNED WORD AT A TIME."
In other words, kind of what James was speaking about in James 1: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (v. 2-4).
Walking in the wilderness is ultimately a joyful thing because as the difficult road tests our faith, we develop steadfastness, a faith that’s rooted deeper, more loyal than it once was. And when steadfastness has its full affect, we find that we lack nothing. Steady steps in the midst of difficult times mark the road to completeness.
I spoke at a women’s retreat recently, and I shared content that I’d originally written three years ago. As I worked to adapt it to my new audience, I was shocked: Truth that was once ground-breaking in my life now felt foundational. I didn’t realize how much God had taught me over the past three difficult years, how much he’s built upon that foundation. How encouraging it was for me to take those ideas and update them with truths that God has taught since! This journey has been significant, little by little, but I couldn’t see it in the steps.
When I look at myself in frustration or look at my kids in fear, wondering if we’ll measure up, if we’ll get it right, I want to remember a God who is faithful in the tiny steps. Who often sanctifies us slowly, who transforms over time. Little by little, little by little, He will make us more like Him, and we will raise them, little by little, towards knowledge of Him, too.
What a privilege it is to grow! Our faith will be forged inside the slowness, our determination to learn from and lean on Him in the small moments, inch by inch, until the Promised Land.
May we make space for slow growth, for process, not expecting ourselves to know all and master all right now, but walking steadily with our faithful Teacher.