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). A few weeks ago, I discussed the first of their five stages of maturity. I promised to share the other four and then promptly got distracted by the change on my blog. Today, I want to get back to this series. I hope this will spark some great discussion about growing up and growing up in the Lord and growing up God’s way.
The Child Stage (4-12)
The infant stage was marked by a needy baby who simply cannot articulate those needs. The infant needs parents who will provide unconditional love and meet needs without being asked.
The child has progressed. The child has learned to say what he needs. The child begins to learn how to take care of herself. Please note very carefully, the child begins to learn how to take care of herself, not someone else. It is not the child’s job to caretake the parent. It is not the child’s job to caretake other children. The child is learning how to take care of herself.
When roles are reversed, that is the child is having to provide the emotional or physical needs of the parent or to act the parent to the other children, he may seem mature beyond his years. However, this child will often development emotional impairment that will become apparent in years to come.
During this stage, the child still needs to receive unconditional love. She should not have to earn love. She can earn rewards, but love must always be unconditional.
Progressing to the Next Level
The child has six tasks to accomplish to help him grow to the next level of maturity.
- The child can ask for what is needed and learns to say what he thinks or feels.
- The child learns what brings personal satisfaction.
- The child needs to develop enough persistence to do hard things.
- The child begins to develop personal resources and talents.
- The child knows self and takes responsibility to make self understandable to others.
- The child needs to learn how he fits into history and into the big picture of what life is all about.
The child learns to do this as the parents and community surrounding her fulfill their responsibilities to her.
- The parents must teach the child how to appropriately express needs, feelings, and thoughts.
- The parents must teach the child how to evaluate the consequences of her own behavior and to identify what satisfies her.
- The parents must challenge and encourage the child to do difficult things that she may not want to do.
- The parents must provide opportunities and resources to develop her unique talents and abilities.
- The parents must guide the child to discover the unique characteristics of her heart.
- The parents must educate the child about her family’s history and the history of the family of God (p. 30).
Getting Stuck as a Child
If the child doesn’t accomplish these tasks, he can get stuck at this level of maturity, no matter how biologically old he is. In other words, he could be 35 biologically, but still a child emotionally.
“‘Child adults’ who have adult bodies but are emotionally at the child level of maturity, will always appear ego-centric. Unlike ‘infant adults’ who cannot take care of themselves, ‘child adults’ can take care of themselves but they can only take care of themselves–and often that is at the expense of others” (p. 21).
“Child adults” will experience continual frustration because they do not know how to ask for their needs to be met. Therefore, their needs don’t get met. They can become passive-aggressive, trying to get others to meet their needs but not knowing how to get that done. Thus, they resort to manipulation. Because they don’t understand what provides real satisfaction, they are in a desperate hunt for it, chasing it in many unhealthy places, such as obsession or addiction to food, drugs, sex, money, power, etc. Because they have never learned the joy of sticking with a hard project to successful completion, they only know failure. They become stuck and undependable. They are in a constant search for a comfortable fantasy life that doesn’t really exist for anyone. Because they haven’t developed their own talents and resources, their lives are marked by unproductive activities, floating from entertainment to recreation to entertainment, accomplishing nothing of value to themselves or society. Because they haven’t developed their own healthy sense of self and personal identity, they will conform to outside influences that distort and misshape their identity and sense of self. Because they have never seen how they fit within history and the big picture of life, they feel disconnected from the family and history. They are unable to protect themselves from family lies or dysfunctions that are passed on (p. 30).
The Spiritual Application
Regrettably, in most churches, Christians are never really allowed to be children in Christ. It is as if they are to go from babes in Christ to mature adults, even having the “elder” level of maturity almost from the beginning. They aren’t allowed to be immature. They aren’t allowed to express what they think or feel. They have to very quickly learn to toe the line of the mature Christians’ thinking around them. Of course, this mindset usually demonstrates the “mature” Christians around them aren’t quite as mature as they think.
Also, regrettably, while churches often do a good job at helping a Christian child learn the right answers to the right questions, they rarely do a good job at helping a Christian child develop their own talents and resources in serving Christ. That is, unless their talent is song-leading or waiting on the Lord’s Supper table. We have all kinds of training for those low-level public tasks. But what about the real needs in a Christian community that deal with serving, helping, one-on-one encouragement, etc. Churches do very little training in these areas.
Clearly, we need to work with Christian children to help them persevere in difficult things. Challenge them and encourage them to step up to the plate in spiritual tasks. Encourage them to study things that are deeper than what they’ve done in the past. Challenge them to serve in ways they haven’t yet. Provide guidance and support, but don’t do the work for them.
What about education in seeing themselves in the big picture of the history of the family of God? Certainly, many churches do a great job studying Acts over and over again, but what about placing each individual in the context of Christian history beginning with the Bible and leading up to today. I know I rarely think about that. In fact, before reading this, I would have said, “Who cares? It doesn’t matter what has happened throughout history. It only matters what they did in the Bible days.” I’m not suggesting the history of Christendom is some kind of authority for us. However, I can say that recently I was asked to present a lecture on some pre-reformation “heretical sects” (that is sects considered heretical by the Roman Catholic church). It was eye-opening about my own place in the continuing and unfolding drama of people throughout the ages striving to figure out how to surrender to God’s will. On a personal level, I have found great joy since reading this as I’ve made it a personal goal in my family to share our family history. For instance, it was great to learn and pass on to my children that our family name means “cross bearer” and that we have a family motto that means “The cross is my key to heaven.” What a great family legacy to pass on.
What If We’re the Ones Stuck
The scary thing is if we read this description and see ourselves. What if we are the “child adult”? As adults, we are responsible for our maturity. We can’t just sit back and bemoan the fact that our family and our community haven’t fulfilled their tasks in helping us grow. Instead, we need to find someone who is at the parent and elder stage of maturity and ask them to help us grow. Ephesians 4:11-14 says God provided certain people within His body to help us develop to manhood. We need to find some of these to help us. We need to openly and honestly tell them where we think we are and see if they are willing to mentor and shepherd us to maturity. But make sure the relationship is a healthy one. If the shepherd or mentor starts to heap unhealthy shame and guilt on you, feel free to end the mentoring part of the relationship and seek a different mentor.
Further, spend heaping amounts of time in Bible study and prayer. Allow God to mentor and shepherd you through His word. God loves you, God challenges you, God encourages you. Don’t allow the messages of shame and fright that others have used the Bible to pressure you with to shine through. Instead, allow God’s guidance, shepherding, and healthy discipline to guide you in His strait and narrow way to life.
Tell me what you think. Does this sound a like a legitimate step of maturity? How do you think we can unstick ourselves if we are stuck in this level? Do we need to be concerned about it at all?
Continue this series by learning about the adult stage.