Spiritual Growth Is Not Linear

by Frank Powell

Two years ago, when I stumbled on a program that changed my life, I knew very little about the brain. I was sick then, very sick. This program, DNRS, told me I could undo years of chronic pain and suffering by re-wiring the pathways in my head. 

DNRS has five pillars, or core principles, but one of the most important is shifting focus away from symptoms. The symptoms of chronic illness – brain fog, fatigue, nausea, joint pain – are legion and affect every waking moment of your life. They’re also illusions. They aren’t real. They’re faulty signals your brain sends your body.

How is this possible? Well, the brain is vulnerable, especially in our modern world, as we’re exposed to more and more chemicals and moving at a faster pace and endure more stress, the brain can lose itself, unable to process the toxins and stress. It can go rogue, in other words, and assume things are harmful when they aren’t. 

The point of taking the focus away from symptoms is simple. Healing is not linear.

This is crucial to re-wiring your brain. If you assume healing is linear, you will become discouraged when you have a set back. And you will have setbacks. You will curse the day you found DNRS and throw a massive pity party. And that’s bad. 

Healing looks like this, the instructors said, and they threw up this picture. 

You can’t focus on your symptoms, they said. You must trust the process. If you implement the program, you will re-wire your brain. Your symptoms will go away. You will heal. But the process is not linear. You will have ups and downs. Stay the course. 

Alright, I said. That’s fine. No big deal. 

About six months into the program, I had my first setback. And, just like they said, I wanted to curse the day I found DNRS and throw myself a massive pity party. It was awful. I felt miserable. All the symptoms I endured before DNRS returned like they were pissed off about something, like I locked them in a cage without food or forced them to walk a crowded street naked. 

I stayed the course, though. I didn’t want to stay the course. I wanted to quit. But I remembered the photo above. I trusted the process. And, eventually, the symptoms went away.


We live in a culture that asks us to map out our lives, and tells us that if we do the right things, if we work hard and make good decisions, we will get everything we want. From a young age, teachers and parents ask us what we want to be when we grow up. Our culture asks us to pick a career for the entirety of our lives as teenagers, before we have a chance to live at all. It’s a ridiculous time in one’s life to make future decisions. But you must. And you must because in this culture it’s all about upward mobility. If you start on the path now, as the logic goes, the line on your life’s bar graph will reach the top faster. You soon discover, though, after a setback or two, that culture sold you a lie. 

Life is not linear.

Sometimes you move forward. Life hums along. Job is great. Family is healthy. Then, life happens, and you stop moving. You regress. You move backwards. Someone you love dies. You lose your job. Cancer strikes. You develop a chronic or mental illness. The list is endless.

Then there are other times still where it feels like you neither move backward nor forward. You’re stuck. You’re running in circles. Maybe you didn’t lose your job. But the one you have sucks, and you have no idea what to do about it. Maybe your spouse didn’t leave you. But your marriage is stale and lifeless, and there’s no end in sight. Maybe you have an amazing family, but your life feels purposeless. Seems delusional, but I’d rather move backward than stand still. Nothing is more disorienting than not moving at all.

In a culture where success and productivity are stand-ins for God, only one of the three things I mentioned above matters: moving forward. Moving backward and standing still are cousins to failure. They’re pointless and futile. You should avoid both at all costs. 


But what if it all matters? Hint: it does. For those who trust God and desire to walk with him everyday, the setbacks matter just as much as the successes. It all matters. God uses all of it to mold and shape us into more loving and joy-filled people. God especially uses the loopty-loop seasons of life, because in these seasons we have no control and are therefore in the best position to trust someone other than ourselves. 

And trust is the word, here, the one I want you to remember. In this world, you will have trouble, Jesus said. You will lose yourself at some point in your journey. If you don’t, you aren’t trusting God. 

I want to say this respectfully, but if you meet every five and ten and twenty year plan for your life, I wonder whether you’re following God. You certainly aren’t taking any risks. You’re playing it safe, and that’s the opposite of living. There’s a kind of death people experience while still alive. It’s the death of your spirit, and it’s caused by fear and the status quo.

We want to believe life is linear, that every step inches upward. But it doesn’t. Sometimes you start over. Sometimes you endure a season of waiting. These seasons aren’t wasted time. You’re not losing or falling behind. God uses them.

Growth in all its forms, but particularly the spiritual kind, looks more like the picture above than a straight line. You will question yourself. You will become disoriented and maybe even depressed. You will suffer in ways you never thought possible. 

But do not give up. Trust the process. Show up everyday. Know that God is good because he is. The plans you have for your life are just that. Plans. Plans are fine. Sketch up the very best one you can. But know that it can and will and should change. 

I don’t know where you are on the timeline right now. I don’t guess it matters. If you are in a season where everything is going well, praise God. Two thumbs up. Trust God. If you are in a hard and difficult season and you feel like the world is moving one way and you’re moving the other, don’t lose hope. God is with you. If you’re lost right now, unsure about the direction of your life, meandering towards nowhere, stay the course. Be patient. Trust your Creator.

God works all things together for good. 

Grace and peace, friends.

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