As kids, many of us had a doorframe littered with lines that identified how much we had grown over time. Remember those moments when we would stand with our backs to the wall, pencil-in a line, compare it to our past marks -- or, the marks of our siblings -- then head back to playfulness.
In most cases, nothing more was ever -- or, is ever -- done with our list of height measurements. So, why did we measure ourselves? If we didn’t plan to do anything with the data, what was the use of collecting it? The truth, in my family, we measured only for the purpose of curiosity.
Most of humanity likes to track growth because we find it fascinating. We enjoy being able to curiously look back on things and see how much growth has taken place. But growth is as tricky as it is fascinating. More often than not, we can’t see growth while it’s happening. Whether you’re a child growing in stature or an adult growing in your spiritual walk, it’s hard to see your own growth daily. It’s hard to see the smallest stages of growth because it happens slowly over time; growth takes time. And, all of us must come to learn that it most often takes place in the shadows of life.
Think about these examples of growth. A seed grows unseen underground before it sprouts. An athlete trains in an empty or densely populated gym before taking the field; growing in his skill when few -- or no one -- is watching. Like the seed and the athlete, a public manifestation is the first moment when what has happened in private is finally revealed to others in some measurable form.
Light reveals our growth, but it happens in the shadows.
Joshua is one of the best leaders in the Bible. He led millions of people into conquest to inhabit the land God had promised to the Israelites. The book of Joshua is a highlight reel of his victories and his charismatic leadership ability. But Joshua wasn’t always a leader; he wasn’t always a conqueror.
For 40 years, Joshua served under the leadership of Moses while the people wandered in the wilderness.
For 40 years, Joshua saw the people look to Moses for direction.
For 40 years, Joshua was in Moses’s shadow.
During all of this time, distanced from the main stage of leadership, Joshua could have chosen to resent Moses -- and the dimness associated with his many of his assignments. Instead, Joshua found his position to be an incredible place to grow, and in the shade of a great leader, he cultivated substantial growth. Like the seed beneath the soil and the athlete in the empty gym, Joshua embraced the growth process. He didn’t seek to grow beyond his own position too quickly.
In Exodus 33:11, we learn, “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent”. When Joshua was young and learning under Moses, he took advantage of his time in secondary positions by growing in God. It was with God, unseen by others, pursuing Heaven's presence alone in a tent, that Joshua undoubtedly grew the most. This time of growth prepared him to eventually lead the nation of Israel into possession of the Promised Land.
Joshua is now a hero of the faith and will be remembered forever, but it was his growth in the shadows -- in his private gym, the tent -- that paved the way for his success. It’s hard to see our own growth because many times, we can’t see the big picture, and for some, it’s hard not to be on center stage where everyone can see you. But the time in the shadows is invaluable.
If we would all choose to spend more of our time in God’s presence -- as Joshua did -- God would mold us into who He wants us to be. So, may we all learn and experience the reality that growing in the shadows of life gives us the ability to fight for God on the brightest stages.