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Jo Hayes: Why I despise the ‘growth mindset’ bandwagon

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While it’s good to want to grow, the Scriptures warn us against ‘striving in the flesh.’ Photo: Pexels

It’s been a buzzword in wellness, self-help and professional circles for many years.

Used in connection to health, relationship and career goals, “growth mindset” is the mental attitude, or outlook, of continual growth.

I admit, it’s a phrase that looks and sounds supremely positive. It suggests a healthy ambition, an applaudable entrepreneurial spirit.

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But, almost every time I read it, or hear it, my spirit recoils, and I think, “chunderous.”

It’s not because I’m not an ambitious, entrepreneurial, hard-working person, or in any way opposed to “growth.” I am pro-growth.

Ever since my school days, when I was determined to dux at least a few of my subjects, I’ve been known, by family and friends alike, to be supremely dedicated to my work and studies.

I have a similar attitude to my health and fitness. And above all, a dedication to my spiritual life and faith.

And yet, I don’t, in any way, identify with this popular notion. In fact, I find it repulsive. I know why. It reeks of striving.

I’ve seen far too many of these “growth mindset” types, overwrought, overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, peaceless and restless, somehow needing to prove something to themselves, and/or the world.

The Sacred Scriptures are explicit in their warnings to believers to avoid “striving in the flesh” (ie. labouring/toiling outside of the power and grace of the Holy Spirit of God).

In fact, the New Testament epistles tell us that the only thing we should be “striving” for is “entering the rest of God” (Heb 4:11).

St Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews, from the end of chapter 3, through most of chapter 4, is a life lesson in avoiding the sin of the disobedient, striving, Israelites.

This unhealthy striving is something which I strive (pardon the pun) to avoid with every fibre of my being. Instead, I’m determined to follow the evangelist’s instructions to live every day of my life in a “spirit of rest.”

The Greek word used in St Paul’s letter is katapausin. It’s the calm, restful, settled, blissful place of repose, in God (Heb 4:1-11).

I’ve found that rest is the secret to true, lasting, healthy growth—the sort of growth that is accompanied by deep peace and abundant joy.

Living life in a spirit of rest and peace, trusting in God’s power and love, is the growth mindset for Christians. Photo: Pexels

Jesus himself speaks straight into this topic in the Gospel of Matthew:

“Come to me all you who labour and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me … and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt 11:28-30).

I’ve no doubt heard, or read, this Scripture innumberable times in my Catholic life, but seven years ago, I encountered these words in a life-changing way.

It was as though I’d stumbled upon a wellspring of deliciously cool, desperately needed water, in the midst of a dry, parched desert.

If you’ll indulge me an expanded translation of this verse, with a focus on the specific Greek words Jesus used.

“Come, all you who are overburdened, fatigued, weary, from striving, toiling, and labouring on your own. Learn from me how to do life. Learn the unforced (easy, flowing) rhythms of grace. And you will find rest and refreshment (a ceasing of labour), for your souls. Life with me, in my power (the Holy Spirit) is light, easy and pleasant. It is not burdensome in any way.”

From Genesis to Revelation, we are reminded, again and again, of the crucial importance of rest for growth and prosperity in the Judeo-Christian life.

The Sabbath rest (resting from labour) is carved in stone, as one of the Ten Commandments. And it is this rest that St Paul is referring to, in his exhortation to the Hebrews. In fact, not just keeping one day set aside for rest, but pursuing a lifestyle of rest.

In the very first Psalm, David says, “those who dwell (abide/rest) continually in the Word of God are like a tree planted by streams of living water … they produce fruit in their season, their leaves never wither … everything they do shall prosper” (Ps 1:1-3).

In the Gospel of John, Jesus again reminds us of the crucial importance of abiding in him, resting in his power, in order to produce fruit.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me … you will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).

Think about the branch of an apple tree. It doesn’t need to strive to grow, or strive to produce an apple. In fact, it doesn’t need to do anything except remain connected to the trunk.

The trunk is the source of all the nutrients necessary to grow, thrive and produce an apple. Such is our life in Christ.

I am a living witness to the truth and power of the above scriptures.

As a TV reporter and radio newsreader, working for the nation’s number one mainstream networks for 15 years, I spent my fair share of those years striving in my own strength.

And while I certainly had a level of, what the world would call “success,” I was often toiling apart from God. And was often left tired and weary, in desperate need of life-giving water.

Fast forward to 2017, and my born-again experience in the Word of God, my career and life fruits have burst forth thick and fast, with an almost laughable “ease.” While I have enjoyed a continual, abundant sense of peace, joy and rest.

As I’ve diligently applied what I’ve been taught in the scriptures, abiding daily in the Word of God and meditating in his presence, seeking to live every day—as much as possible, every moment—in a spirit of rest and peace, the growth has happened, without any striving on my part.

It seems God is right (of course). Rest is the key to growth, prosperity and abundant life.

So, while the “growth mindset” is not inherently wrong, may I suggest a focus, instead, on a lifestyle of rest.

Not laziness, but doing everything—work, health, relationships—with a heart/mind focus on the vine that is Jesus Christ, and our inherent value, worth and power-for-growth that is found in abiding in him.

Jo Hayes is a TV journalist and evangelist.

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