Remember this guy?
That photo was taken four months ago. He was just a baby when I got him. He had little color, his fins were short, and he was prone to panic attacks, which is why he’s got stripes in this photo. Before him I didn’t know that little bettas got all stripy when they get freaked out. I guess it’s the betta version of wetting one’s pants.
Fast forward to today. That stripy little baby betta has become this:
This is Leonard. In some angles he has bright turquoise coloring; in others—most others, actually—he is a deep rich royal blue. He always has that lovely band of golden finnage known as “mustard gas” coloring. He is gorgeous.
When I first got him I had no idea what he’d look like in four months’ time. Even when he wasn’t wetting his pants he was still rather drab, with just some hints of turquoise in his fins. It wasn’t that there was something wrong with him. He was actually exactly what a baby betta should be. It would have been foolish to judge him and condemn him according to the standard of his potential without accounting for his stage of growth.
However, it would have been equally foolish to treat him as if his current size and condition were the sum total of all he would ever be.
I gave him food to maximize his growth and enhance his coloring, but I broke it down into small bites for his small mouth. I bought him his own little 3 gallon apartment and gave him a rock to hide behind when he felt the need to retreat. I treated his water so that he wouldn’t be stressed by the chemicals that make it safe and drinkable for humans.
And I let him do the rest.
When living things have their basic needs met, they grow. God designed them that way.
Today I listened to a man describe the past four months of his life. He met Jesus four months ago. The encounter permanently altered him, wrecking the course of life that he previously thought was good enough. He is a glorious kind of ruined, hungry for the wild life of the Spirit but still not sure how to navigate that tricky terrain between faith and reason, intellect and childlikeness. He is in process. He is exactly where he should be.
Sometimes it’s hard to be where we are. We self-judge and berate ourselves for not being better, knowing more, accomplishing more. But the truth is that we can only be authentic when we fully occupy our space and our place on our path. When we try to be more than we are, we short-circuit the lessons of the present—the very ones intended to mature us and prepare us for the future. We aren’t where we should be because we aren’t actually where we are.
Maybe it would be easier for us if we’d just stop to be encouraged by how much of a difference four months can make.