“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” 1 Corinthians 13:11 (NKJV)
Most of us who have reached a certain age remember the advertising slogan: “I don’t wanna grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid.” For me, this slogan epitomizes the heart of our culture today. We have refused to put away childish things, carrying them with us far into chronological adulthood.
I am not exactly sure where we veered off into this life of perpetual childhood. If I had to guess, this probably has its roots in the mass rebellion of the 1960s and 1970s when my peers did everything to throw off the restraint and societal rules of earlier generations. We decided that we didn’t want, or need, the so-called drudgery of work and family. We just wanted to have fun; a life of perpetual entertainment. We didn’t want to bother with the unpleasantness of maturity and responsibility; we were much too busy having a good time. We were focused on ourselves and we liked it that way.
And so, many of us have been living our lives as spoiled children walking around in adult bodies. Everything is about what we want, when we want it, without concern for how that affects others. Just as the toddler says, “mine” to everything he sees, we have done the same as adults. We have taught our children that they don’t have to grow up and take on the responsibility of adulthood either; they can continue with their childish behaviors without any significant negative repercussions.
One of the primary responsibilities of a parent (besides a child’s spiritual growth and development) is teaching them the skills they will need to step confidently into adulthood. It doesn’t matter if we don’t want to let them grow up, we can’t stop the process. We must give them the tools that they need, to not only survive in the world, but to actually thrive there.
Society has removed many of the negative connotations of infantile behavior. What negative connotations remain, do not seem too effective in deterring what should be considered unacceptable. I am reminded of the small child who repeatedly “pitches a fit” and the parents who continue to say: “Now, Johnny, if you do that again, I’m going to have to. . . (fill in the blank here).” Of course, the parents never do what they threaten to do, and the child learns that he can continue to use his behavior as emotional blackmail to get what he wants. No one is going to make him stop; his parents don’t mean what they say. He learns that adults can’t be trusted to tell the truth.
The child who learns this, believes that he is in control of his world. As much as he thinks he wants this, it also terrifies him. He knows deep down that he is not capable of handling his world yet. He doesn’t know where the boundaries are and because he doesn’t, he never feels safe. He never learns how to confidently manage his world, because his world is dictated by ever-shifting emotions, not the love and wisdom of his parents. This child grows into an adult where selfishness and self-centeredness take center stage.
Being a parent means you cannot be your child’s friend; at least not during their formative years. If you are doing your job correctly as parents, there are going to be times when your child will thoroughly detest you; you have set limits to his behavior and he doesn’t like that. He will continue to rebel against those limits until you have taught him that rebellion isn’t acceptable. Obedience never goes down easily. It is our job as parents to challenge our children with increasing responsibilities until they can handle the requirements of living as independent adults.
Popular psychology has taught us that in order to be “good parents” we are not to do anything that will hurt our children’s fragile “self-esteem.” Challenge them? No–that might frustrate them and hurt their self-esteem. Responsibilities and chores? No–they might get angry with us for making them do something they don’t like and don’t want to do. Require certain standards of behavior? No–that is too restrictive and might harm their creativity. Don’t these experts understand that self-esteem is not built by constant praise for every small accomplishment? Don’t they understand that a child’s sense of worth is not the same as self-esteem?
The same is true of our spiritual growth and development. Continued coddling of our children does them no favors. When we are coddled and babied in our spiritual growth, we have been done no favors either.
I am reminded of a men’s Bible study that my husband was asked to attend many years ago. They were discussing the following verse of Scripture:
“Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” Peter 2:1-3 (NKJV)
As a part of the discussion time, each man in this rather large group was given the task to compare this verse to “mother’s milk,” showing how the “sincere milk of the Word” could be applied to their own lives. After listening to increasingly nauseating (his words) detailed examples of babies being fed by mother’s milk, it was my husband’s turn to add his “two cent’s worth.” Now, he will tell you that he didn’t handle this situation with particular mercy or grace that day. He responded with this statement:
“If all you ever feed a baby is milk, you are going to get a stunted and retarded baby. You’ve got to throw in some meat once in a while.” (Not an exact quote, but close.)
After he made this comment, there was complete silence in the room. To say that he was never asked back to that Bible study would be to state the obvious. His observation though was correct. What made him so angry was the “pietistic gush” (a term coined by J. R. Rushdooney) that was passing for Bible study that day. There was no one who even intimated that, at some point, we have to get past the “milk stage” and into the “meat stage” of our spiritual growth and development. Milk goes down easy, but you have to chew on meat some before you can swallow it.
Now, I will be the first to admit that growing up, both emotionally and spiritually, is rarely a fun process. Many people are quite willing and happy to have the so-called “rights” of adult life, but don’t really want the responsibilities that go along with it. And thus, you have what is so commonplace in our culture today: rampant immaturity.
So what is the solution? As parents, we have to start consistently holding our children accountable for their immature behavior. As adults, we have to hold ourselves to that same standard. It is time for the pastors of our churches to start holding us accountable for our spiritual immaturity, as well. We need to seek churches that teach (force) us to grow up. We shouldn’t allow ourselves “pre-digested” spiritual food anymore than we would eat that kind of food at our next meal. We must move beyond the “milk” stage and get into the “meat” of the Word.
In our spiritual growth and development, salvation is only a first step. Many people stop there, happy to have their “fire insurance.” Many are quite happy to have Jesus Christ as the “Savior” of their life; it is the “Lord” part of that equation that so many rebel against. We don’t really want to grow up. We don’t want anything difficult to be required of us. We want it all to be easy and comfortable.
As parents, we expect that at some point our children will grow up and move out of the house, functioning as fully capable adults. God is no different. He expects that, at some point in our spiritual growth and development, we will be able to do the same. The Christians in our nation seem to be largely converts; there are few disciples making any real difference in our culture. The world needs disciples. Twelve disciples in the early church turned the world upside down with the message of the Gospel. People around the globe and around the block are desperate to hear the “Good News” of the Gospel. They need those who have grown beyond infancy in the faith to teach them how to affect their world with the power of the Living God. We can’t expect someone else to do this. God has called us to take the message of the Gospel to the four corners of the earth before Jesus Christ returns for His bride without “spot or wrinkle.”
Whether emotionally or spiritually, it is time for us to grow up–whether we feel like it or not, whether it is fun or not. God expects it of us.
No one else is going to do it for us.
Copyright © 2011 by Susan E. Johnson
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