We Form by Degrees

One lone beauty.

I was talking to a dear friend of mine earlier this week who just finished her second half-marathon. I am so not a runner and can’t imagine doing something like that myself, but I absolutely admire and stand in awe of her for setting her mind and body to doing it and then accomplishing it. 

Because this was her second half-marathon, running has clearly been a part of her life for some time now.

I remember when she declared her goal to run a half-marathon the first time, and then I watched her join a formal running group and incorporate training runs into her weekly schedule. 

After her first half-marathon, she shared with me that she’s discovered running is most fun for her in the sweet spot of about 5-6 miles. She wasn’t sure she’d run a half-marathon again since she’d learned that about herself.

But then last fall, when she came to stay with me for a week, she’d recently made the decision to train for this second one.

I remember waking up one morning during her visit last fall to learn that she’d already gone for a 2-mile run in our neighborhood, having pulled up our address on Google Maps and mapped out what seemed like a good route for herself. And then I watched her sit at our farmtable in our front room that same morning and plan out her training schedule for the next few months, steadily marking an increase in mileage for each week that would get her up to the 13.1-mile race day.

When we spoke earlier this week about the race she’d completed over the weekend, it just struck me with so much force: 

“Katy,” I said. “It’s kind of amazing that you’ve become the kind of person who can run 13 miles in one go. All your training has led to you being someone who has that capacity now.”

She didn’t used to be the kind of person who could run 13.1 miles. But now she is. Her wise and intentional training led her there. 

It gets me thinking about spiritual formation. 

We are human beings designed for growth.

We grow in the womb, and then we proceed to continue growing outside the womb in so many different directions. In fact, it seems the nature of every living thing is bent toward growth. Animals do it, trees and plants do it, and sometimes I wonder if the growth element God seemed so keen on implanting in living things will continue somehow still in heaven.

And our growth always happens by degrees.

It’s so tempting to think of the ideal life of Christ — or even just our ideal notion of a Christian — and expect ourselves to be able to live like that once we have given our lives to Christ.

We forget, or perhaps do not even know, that life in Christ is about formation. We grow in Christlikeness over time. We grow deeper into our true selves over time. 

Growth always happens by degrees. 

In what places are you growing right now? What is it like for you to focus on this “next right degree” Christ is about forming in you, rather than an ideal, fully formed image of Christlike perfection?