Our growth marks

A young mother commemorated her son's third birthday by measuring the little boy's height in a corner of the family's kitchen. She instructed the child to stand straight and tall against the wall with his arms to his side. Then she placed a ruler at the crown of his head and recorded his height by making a small mark on the wall with a pencil at the edge of the ruler.

Next to the mark, she noted the date in small letters and then utilized a tape measure to determine her son's exact height. Every three or four months she would repeat the process. Inevitably, a new pencil line would be placed a few centimeters above the previous line.

The little boy always looked forward to being measured. It was exciting to study the ascending pencil marks. Each new mark doubled as evidence that he was growing. He often wondered just how high the marks would climb. The years passed and the measurements continued. Sometimes there would be only slight differences between the succession of marks. Other measurements proved more dramatic. When the boy became a teen the neighboring growth marks were sometimes inches apart. The boy was thrilled when he passed his mother's height line and, a few years later, his father's mark that had once seemed to tower over his own.

But when the boy reached his late teens the difference between each growth mark began to tighten. Eventually the marks from one measurement to the next remained the same. In time, the boy — now a young man — lost interest in his personal growth chart.

One's spiritual growth is more difficult to measure. A testimony of the gospel can't be gauged with a tape measure and a few pencil marks on a kitchen wall. But a thoughtful, prayerful examination of one's self can reveal meaningful evidence of the ongoing and eternal process of personal spiritual growth. For many Latter-day Saints, there are momentous occasions that log spiritual growth as clearly as pencil marks on the wall: A baptismal date. A priesthood ordination. The first day of full-time missionary service and sacred temple sealing.

Other markers of spiritual growth are subtle and are sometimes recognized only in hindsight or in the sacred passages of a personal journal. The "growth marks" recorded by, say, gaining a testimony of the Book of Mormon are often registered only in the soul.

Thankfully, the comparison between physical and spiritual growth has its limits. Like the little boy, most people will finish their physical growth in their mid-to-late teens. But spiritual growth pays no deference to the calendar. Unlike physical growth, we choose if our spiritual growth ends.

Baptism and the other growth-promoting ordinances of the Church are typically singular events. But regular service to others — through our Church callings and other selfless acts together with prayer, scripture study and Church attendance — can ensure that we never stop growing.

"Our individual spiritual growth is the key to major numerical growth in the kingdom," said President Spencer W. Kimball in the April 1979 general conference.

"Let us not shrink from the next steps in our spiritual growth, brothers and sisters, by holding back or side-stepping our fresh opportunities for service to our families and our fellowmen."

The word "lengthen" is synonymous with "growth" — and it was President Kimball who will be forever remembered for his challenge that members "lengthen their stride" through service, increased faithfulness and righteous living.

"Let us trust the Lord and take the next steps in our individual lives. He has promised us that He will be our tender tutor, measuring what we are ready for: 'And you cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along' " (Doctrine and Covenants 78:18).

Two things, warned President Kimball, can stunt the spiritual growth of members: "First, sin which results in disinterest, or immobilization and guilt; and second, the reluctance of good members of the Church to stretch just a little bit more in the service, instead of being too slow to see the power of their example or too shy about letting their light shine."

Service inside the family can also ensure a spiritual growth spurt. In his April 2005 general conference address, President Thomas S. Monson spoke of the essential role of regular family home evening: "We cannot afford to neglect this heaven-inspired program. It can bring spiritual growth to each member of the family, helping him or her to withstand the temptations that are everywhere. The lessons learned in the home are those that last the longest."

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