Faith and the “Poopy Growth Mindset”

Ask what I’m learning in the Living School and I’ll blather incoherently, enthusiastically, and at great length about the Christian mystical tradition, the significance of contemplation, and a complete overhaul of my faith. I was doing just that at Easter dinner a few weeks ago. My father-in-law asked, and all eleven relatives at the table stared at me blankly while I answered. Afterward, my brother-in-law quipped, “You should say you’re studying an ancient wisdom tradition. Calling it ‘Christian’ just throws everybody off.” Well, yes.

I had my back to Gwyn, who at age nine bears the direct consequences of having a mom in school. She knows I rise early to read. She has interrupted my silent meditations. She’s seen me crying, pontificating, fearful, changing. She has peered curiously into the Zoom screen of my evening meetings into the homes of my fellow students. How do you convey an inner tradition, largely hidden, thousands of years old, and learned primarily through contemplative practice, to a kid? Especially when most adults don’t get it? Especially when I can barely wrap my mind around it?

Strangely, Gwyn has been learning about the work of psychologist Carol Dweck at school. Dweck’s studies have differentiated two mindsets in humans. A ‘fixed mindset’ assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are given. They can’t be changed in any meaningful way. Success or failure simply confirm our capacities. A ‘growth mindset,’ however, understands our existing character and abilities as flexible. Failure isn’t evidence of lack of intelligence or talent; it’s an opportunity to grow. In the third grade, Gwyn is being taught her inherent capacity for growth. Her general reaction? “Poopy growth mindset!” Change is hard.

Needless to say, I was taken aback when she jumped into the adult conversation at the dinner table. “Is it like learning a growth mindset?” she asked me. And suddenly I saw it: The traditional Christianity of my upbringing, with its moral code, static creed, a God far removed from a floundering humanity—a fixed mindset religion with a fixed mindset God. Every major religion has this hard shell version. It’s what most of us, of no matter what faith, know. It’s what atheists and agnostics see and react to.

But then there’s the living, breathing truth of the interior religion—a mystical dimension that eschews belief and instead engages what really is; it embraces the fundamental human invitation to become; it participates in the dynamic unfolding of the universe’s evolution. “Yes!” I said to Gwyn, nearly leaping out of my seat. “That’s it!” I’m schluffing off the consequences of a fixed mindset faith and learning a Christian growth mindset, from the ground up. It’s both “poopy” and wondrous.

–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew



When a reviewer really “gets” the essence of your book, it’s a treat.  Check out Gil Stafford’s take on Living Revision! is a marvelous online journal for writing mothers.  Thanks to Jude Walsh for this great interview.


Second Friday spiritual memoir drop-in series:

5/11: Dialogue
6/8: Adding by Subtraction

June 5, 2018, 7:00-9:30pm:Author’s Circle Reading at 2615 Park Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55407.

September 24-28, 2018:  Living Revision: A Writer’s Craft as Spiritual Practice retreat at Madeline Island School of the Arts.

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