I recently read a very interesting book that provided an intriguing look at growing up, maturing (wait for it…wait for it… yes, here it is, an associate link: The Life Model: Living from the heart Jesus gave you). Their maturity progress is a mix of how we must grow just to get along in life, but also how we must grow in Jesus to be a maturing disciple. Over the next five Mondays, I want to simply share their five stages of maturity with you. I hope this will spark some great discussion about growing up and growing up in the Lord.
The biological ages provided are not saying once a person reaches that biological point they move on to the next maturity level. Rather, they simply point out the earliest point at which a person can move to the next maturity level. The fact is, someone may be 36 and still in the infant stage of maturity.
The stages are:
- Infant (0-3)
- Child (4-12)
- Adult (13-birth of first child)
- Parent (birth of first child-youngest child becomes an adult)
- Elder (beginning when youngest child becomes an adult)
The Infant Stage (0-3)
The baby stage. In fact, consider what being a baby is like and you see what this level of maturity is like. A baby cannot articulate her needs. A baby can simply scream when he needs or wants something. The parents must guess at his needs. Granted, good parents learn to guess well. They respond to the baby’s needs, nurturing it, feeding it, diapering it, holding it, comforting it.
This is exactly what an infant needs. She needs someone to provide this care-giving love. But more than that, she needs someone to provide these needs while seeing her as God sees her. That is, she needs to see joy on the faces of those who are caring for her. If he sees anger, hurt, fear, that is what he will learn to look for as he grows up. He’ll have a hard time maintaining a center of joy. He’ll have a hard time walking in and bearing the fruit of the Spirit, which is joy (Galatians 5:22).
The infant “needs to be the ‘sparkle in someone’s eye’ and to be with people that are ‘glad to be with them’ so that they live in joy and learn that joy is one’s normal state” (p. 20).
Progressing to the Next Level
Before progressing to the next level of maturity, the infant must accomplish 5 maturity tasks.
- Live in joy, expanding the capacity for joy and learn that joy is the normal state.
- Develop trust.
- Learn how to receive.
- Begin to organize self into a person through relationships.
- Learn how to return to joy from every unpleasant emotion.
These steps are accomplished as the family and community accomplishes the following 5 tasks respectively.
- Parents delight in the infant’s wonderful and unique existence.
- Parents build strong, loving, bonds with the infant–bonds of unconditional love.
- Give care that matches the infants needs, without the infant asking.
- Discover the true characteristics of the infant’s unique identity, through attention to the child’s behavior and character
- Provide enough safety and companionship during difficulties, so the infant can return to joy from any other emotion (p. 29).
Getting Stuck as a Baby
Have you ever seen someone you might call a big baby? That may be a very accurate description. The problem may really be that they never did progress beyond the infant stage of maturity.
If an infant is not provided the unconditional love, care, and nurturing, he will be wounded. He will get stuck in the infant stage. If he learns that he can’t trust others, he’ll always live in fear and distrust, wanting someone to take care of him but certain no one ever will. Do you think that might hinder his ability to rely on God?
If the parents and/or community around the child has not reached the parental stage of maturity, the child is going to be in trouble. The parents can’t give what they don’t have. If the parents are stuck in the infant stage or even the child stage, they will be seeking their own needs themselves and leaving the infant child to fend for herself. The parent, seeking his or her own needs, may “parentify” the infant, seeking their own happiness and comfort through the child. The roles become reversed and neither is fulfilled. It is the parents that are to provide the love and nurture to the child, not the other way around. Sadly, too many of us have kids because we are needy, not because we are prepared to care for a child.
“‘Adult infants’ who have not received in these important areas as babies, will always be needy as adults. They will not be able to take care of themselves emotionally nor will they be able to appropriately receive important things from others. Adult infants will not ask for what they need because they believe if others really cared for them, they would figure out what they needed. Adult infants cannot handle criticism even if it is valid and constructive, because they see any negative feedback as a personal attack. They are often possessive of relationships, territory, power and possessions. Unfortunately for all involved, they also use fear bonding to ensure others will stay bonded to them [Fear bonding is getting others to stay in a relationship by using negative pressures, making them fear something negative if they act as themselves or if they leave the relationship-ELC]. And while ‘high functioning’ adult infants can appear responsible in many areas, like handling personal finances, and being punctual and reliable, emotionally they are severely crippled making it difficult for them to have successful and enduring relationships” (pp. 20-21).
The Spiritual Application
Do you think new converts might be in a similar stage as a newborn infant? They are extremely needy, but they don’t even yet know how to express their needs. They need to be in a family with mature Christians who can anticipate their needs and provide them without them even asking. They need spiritual parents who will care for them, nurturing them, teaching them they can trust the brethren and they can trust God. I can’t begin to suggest for how many years this stage is normal.
However, I can suggest that perhaps more Christians need more mature brethren to demonstrate that the newborn in the faith are the sparkle of our eyes, that we are overjoyed to have them in our presence. What might smiles, hugs, and listening ears accomplish for these new Christians? New Christians need more mature Christians who build strong bonds of unconditional love (emphasize unconditional love–not love until they have a relapse into their favorite pre-baptism sin). Infants in Christ need more mature Christians who discover the babe’s unique identity and strengths. These things might go a longer way to producing spiritual maturity than simply dropping them in a New Converts class and attempting to fill their heads with all the right answers to all the right questions. Babes in Christ need relationships. They will develop their relationship with God as they develop their relationship with other Christians.
Of course, we can’t give what we don’t have. If the congregation has no one at a parent or elder level maturity, there is going to be a problem. The church will then be filled only with people seeking others to care for them or who can only take care of themselves. That is a hurting place to be.
Ephesians 4:13 says we need to develop to mature manhood. If we are stuck in the infant stage, we need to do some work. We need to find some “parents” who can help us get unstuck and move past our wounds and hurts. Be honest with yourself. If you see yourself in that “adult infant” paragraph, seek some mature person out to help you grow.
I hope we can start a discussion here. How do we get beyond infanthood if we are stuck there?