Grit and Spiritual Learning

May 25th, 2018 | Category: DCE Ministry, Faith/Learning, Parents/Family/Community
By Don Borling and Laura LaSalle

Growth is a hot topic these days. People talk about growth as and intellectual. Growth as a Christian. Growth in interpersonal skills. Growth in business skills.

Sometimes growth and grit are spoken of together. I think the idea is that growth requires grit. It requires persistence. It sometimes requires single-mindedness toward a goal.

In the professional lives of the authors, there are different perspectives and different goals toward growth. It is our goal to give you both perspectives as a way of helping you think about both perspectives and both goals.

Growth and Learning

I have been an educator for several decades. Over that time I have earned two advanced degrees, taken many seminars, and taught many others. As I think about it, I have been in the growth-mindset business for a long time.

There has been a lot of talk about mindsets lately. A mindset is a belief that individuals hold about them-selves. It has a lot to do with attitudes toward learning and the ability to learn. A student might express his/her mindset with statements such as:

• I’m not good at math.

• I’m too uncoordinated for sports.

• School is easy.

As an adult, this may include statements such as

• My baby won’t seem to stay on a schedule. I must be a terrible parent.

• I can’t seem to keep a job. I am a failure.

• I’ve disappointed so many. I ‘m not even good enough to step back into a church. I’m sure even God doesn’t want me.

These types of statements tend to keep us motionless and are often used as a rationale for not changing. For example, students are given scores on a test, and they believe this is their academic fate. They, and their parents, may be convinced that the low score or the high score is convicting evidence of their academic future.

On the other hand, recent studies demonstrate that our brains are continually growing. According to psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck (2006), “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits” (p.7). Thus, in a growth mindset, we would believe that we are in control of our abilities, talents, and habits. We would understand that throughout life we can choose to develop and grow to accomplish anything we want. Someone who fully ascribes to the growth mindset might feel that the sky is the proverbial limit.

Most of us would agree that, of course, we want to build on our talents, interests, abilities, and faith, but we may not believe that we can actually do so. Or, perhaps we have never considered a need for growth. Or we have never had a real opportunity to grow. Or we may never have been given the message that growth is possible. And if growth is not possible, then learning is impossible, too.

As a result, in schools we see more and more students disengaged within the institution of schooling. Why is that? As you would imagine, there are several reasons students disengage. One that is often stated by students and teachers is that of frustration or of difficulty understanding the content as it is presented. Another reason often cited is that school is boring. Students who have high ability get bored and do not engage with the topic or the material being presented for learning. Students who struggle and give up because they reach a frustration level lose faith in their ability to master a standard in comparison to others. Many students are driven by grades, not growth in intellectual knowledge or talents. Other students have never felt the excitement of learning something. The same can be true for adults who feel disengaged or frustrated by their work.

If we want to have the most significant impact on our children or our loved ones, it is imperative that we allow them to take charge of their choices for learning. We can do that by instilling a growth mindset over the traditionally fixed mindset. We can do that by communicating a growth mindset in our conversations over dinner. We can stop asking, “How was school or work today?” and getting the same non-growth response or shrug of the shoulders.

Instead, we can ask the following growth-mindset questions:

• What did you do today that made you think hard?

• What happened today that helped you to keep going?

• What can you learn from this?

• How will you make it better?

We can also:

• Teach our children to set measurable goals.

• Provide feedback on areas of success and areas in need of improvement.

• Praise effort and progress over grades.

• Teach them to reflect on growth and to value mistakes as learning experiences.

• Teach children that their brains are like a muscle, The harder they work it, the stronger it be-comes.

• Help children and adults see that doing hard things exercises their brains.

When our children or even we ourselves say, “I can’t achieve that,” remember to add the word, “Yet.”

Growth and Faith

I’ve been thinking and reflecting over the past few days on the words “growth mindset.” I’ve been in the so-called “religion business” for almost 44 years and I’m still searching, wondering, praying, and hope-fully growing a bit, too. I realize more and more to have a positive and productive mindset has a lot to do with perspective.

What can I control? And what can I not control?

What do I know? And what do I not know?

What can I change? And what can I not change?

It brings me back to the simple, beautiful, and life-changing words of the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

I believe that a “growth mindset” comes from deep inside our soul.

Spiritually, it’s knowing there is a higher power at work in the world. It’s a power we call GOD. Knowing and believing this keeps our life in perspective with a good dose of humility, wonder, and mystery. At the same time, we believe that God is at work deep inside the very fiber of our own humanity.

It’s this spiritual dichotomy that makes it fun and worthwhile to get up every day. On the one hand, I know there is a power greater than me, beyond me.

And yet, this incredible power is also inside of me. Yes, this imperfect and very human me can be the vessel through which God comes alive in our world. A vessel through which other people are impacted as I witness to my faith in the God alive in me.

Religion can (if we let it) become a stumbling block to a growth mindset if we allow our religious differences to be barriers, getting in the way of growing and understanding each other.

On the other hand, spirituality looks beyond the barriers of religion and challenges us to grow. It helps us hold onto to that which binds us together. Spirituality opens our eyes and hearts to what we can control and what we can’t. It’s fun. This higher power helps us discover our inner power and when this happens, it’s amazing how much we can grow and make a difference in the world

The learning and faith growth mindsets work hand in hand and can generate an interaction that allows us to maximize our untapped potential and minimize our weaknesses. Both inspire individuals to explore a wide range of opportunities to discover the presence of God and uncover the talents in their daily lives as members of their families and parishes. Growth mindsets, spiritually and academically, can help individuals  to develop a positive self-image. This positive self-image will inspire them to make contributions to society that support growth throughout society.

Growing and Learning: The Journey of Faith

Commitment, mentoring, and ongoing learning are necessary for both spiritual and academic growth. One enhances the other. Further, we contend that academic and spiritual growth are malleable and for that reason need to be cultivated. Fundamentally, teachers and pastors are servant leaders who cultivate growth and a growth mindset in the people whom they serve.

As teachers and pastors, it is necessary to believe in every individual that we serve, realizing that they have varied needs and talents. Together, we can help them discover all they have to offer themselves, others, and society. The journey is God’s challenge to each of us. It is collective at the same time that it is individual. Each of us responds to the challenge of a growth mindset uniquely and individually.

Writing as Laura LaSalle, I turn to my faith in God to keep me motivated and believing in myself to serve others. When I am overwhelmed with my teaching responsibilities, I trust Jesus, knowing he wouldn’t give me more than I can endure. That alone keeps me focused and motivated to continue to push forward in my personal life, my teaching and my service to others. When I see my students developing their skill sets as teachers to respond to the needs of their learners, my heart and passion for education is ignited over and over, and I yearn to keep on educating and growing,

Writing as Don Borling, I remember something my preaching professor told me before I graduated from seminary and came to All Saints Lutheran Church 44 years ago. “Don, preaching and religion are pretty basic. It’s about stories. Your story. Jesus’ story. And listening to the stories of others.” Jesus never meant to start a new religion. His was a message of new relationships and the fulfillment of the promises in the Old Testament. His story was about communicating the grace that is ours through faith in his death and resurrection. His journey is about helping us understand our story, and discovering how his story and our story come together. This coming together opens our minds and hearts, not just to who we are, but to whose we are. This coming together of our stories enables us to be more understanding of the journeys and stories of those around us. My journey may seem quite ordinary, punctuated by lots of ordinary people and moments. But this is precisely where God’s spirit and our spirits collide, and our minds become more open to and aware of the magic and majesty surrounding us.

Together, let us open our hearts, our souls, and our minds. Let the growth mindset journey begin. It begins with our faith in God and in our belief in ourselves. It’s never too late to develop a mindset of growth. That growth mindset honors God while it also supports learning and discovery. LEJ


Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York, NY: Random House.

Author Information

Don Borling is the pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church in Orland Park, IL. Don has served as pastor there since July of 1974—almost 44 years. He graduated from the Lutheran School of Theology in 1974. Don has 5 children and 6 grandchildren, and is engaged to Peggy Sullivan.

Laura LaSalle is an Assistant Professor at Concordia University. She is currently the Program Leader for a Masters Degree in Differentiated Instruction. She earned her doctorate from Illinois State University. Her experiences include Special Education, Gifted Education, and Educational Leadership.