Order. Disorder. Reorder — A Pattern for Spiritual Development

When my wife and I were pregnant for each of our four children, we noticed a certain pattern, a predictable cycle, unfold.

During the nine months of pregnancy, an initial order developed as my wife nurtured the baby and herself with vitamins and a healthy diet. Joy saturated our hearts as we picked the lemon hues and sunshine theme for the baby’s room, set up the crib, and pondered the name we’d give our child. And as I laid my head on my wife’s bursting belly at night, the baby’s kicks lulled me into knowing everything was right in our world.

Then came the disorder of labor, transition, and delivery. The quiet nights of eating ice cream on the couch as we sang lullabies to our unborn child gave way to my wife’s thrashing on a sterile hospital bed after she’d thrown a pillow across the room screaming, “You did this to me!” Contractions rocked her body. She grabbed my shirt collar and shrieked with pain. Fear and confusion whirlwinded through our minds as we wondered if we’d be able to endure.

Just when it seemed the labor and transition had no end, the doctor whispered in my wife’s ear, “You can push now,” and the birth of a beautiful infant ushered reorder into our lives. As I cut my child’s umbilical cord and held him to my chest, everything changed. Our fear and pain disappeared, replaced by a deeper peace and joy than we’d imagined possible.

Order. Disorder. Reorder.

That pattern, Franciscan priest Richard Rohr teaches, is the pattern for all human growth. It’s the growing pain of how we mature. It’s the life-giving cycle of spiritual development.

Jesus modeled this pattern. For thirty-three years, his life was mostly one of order and predictability as he preached and spread God’s love through his healing words and actions.

Then came the disorder of his passion and death. He endured the agony in the Garden, the piercing with thorns, the whipping, and finally the crucifixion on a wooden cross. The suffering he tolerated taught us that pain is the springboard for growth and resurrection.

Once Christ pushed through Good Friday, past Holy Saturday and into Easter Sunday, he returned with a new order and poured the Light of Love and Wisdom—the Holy Spirit—into our hearts.

Our lives also reflect this pattern. We go to school or work. We tend to our daily chores. There’s comfort in the order of ordinary days.

Then something happens that disrupts our orderly lives. It might be something big—a loved one dies, we get injured, we develop an addiction, or our marriage crumbles.

It might be something less traumatic. We’re overwhelmed by life’s busyness. Our lives seem to lack purpose. An unnamed inner yearning haunts us.

Regardless of the size of the disorder, its pain sets in like an ominous gray cloud as we experience loss, confusion, or even depression.

Society teaches us to distract ourselves or numb our pain. According to the blur of television and magazine ads, there’s always a pill, a car, a video-game, or some glory-halleluiah seminar that instantly will take away our pain.

But just as seeds have to push through the pod, grind through the crusty ground, and reach for the sun to grow, we too must pass through and push beyond the suffering towards the Light to experience inner growth.

If we resist the disorder of suffering, if we try to blot it out or numb it, we stay stuck. We don’t grow.

But if, as St. Ignatius tells us, we gently push against the desolation of disorder by seeking deeper wisdom and connection with God and our inner selves, we find the transition—while still painful—often leads to a life-giving reorder of our lives.

Ask yourself occasionally: what part of life’s cycle am I in?

If order, continue on your path of growth.

If disorder, don’t run from it. Embrace it as an invitation to grow. Find your Garden of Gethsemane, and in the solitude ask God to lead you through the transition.

Once you experience reorder, know it’s the Light that brought you through the darkness—and that it will continue to do so time and time again.