Today is day two of the National Football League college draft, the one event in the off-season that grants the greatest ray of hope to struggling teams. In the draft, teams that performed the worst last season are granted the higher draft picks and thus a chance at better players, which should result in improved performance on the field in the years to come. In other sports, specifically basketball, some teams have been known to try not to win late in the season, just to improve their draft standing. Whether or not such a system is fair, it reflects aspects of a principle of growth and improvement in just about any area of life.
To drastically improve at most anything you likely need to get worse at it first. Think of rebuilding a business that has been around for a few decades and is muddling along neither well nor poorly. But when a new management team comes in, they see potential for massive growth as long as some drastic changes are made. So they cut some staff members who have not performed well, maybe an entire department or two. They discontinue a few product lines that have lost value over they years. And they institute new policies and begin pushing the workplace culture in a new direction, an aggressively innovative and creative one. What will happen? It will be hard. Employees will have a steep learning curve. The first months or year will be a whirlwind at times and a grind at others. Employees will feel lost, and some will depart, leaving more holes to fill. One person will have to do the work of two. But over time the changes will pay off and the business will begin to see unprecedented growth. They got worse in order to get better.
The same principle holds true for physical health. It goes from comfort (sitting on the couch with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s) to pain (trying to go running) to fitness (actually being able to run). To get fit I have to be bad, to wheeze and hurt and ache. But over time that lessens and I get better and healthier.
Getting bad to get good is a growth principle, something that is true of making drastic improvement at anything. It is what happens when we try anything new as well. And it is just as real in spiritual growth as it is in business or fitness or creativity. To grow we must do things we are bad it and do them poorly for a time—maybe it’s developing the habits of reading or prayer or accountability. They simply don’t just happen naturally. It can be very difficult. But we struggle in order to grow.