When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
-1 Corinthians 13:20 (NIV)
Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.
-1 Corinthians 14:20 (NIV)
I learned something this week. There might be nothing that makes the passage of time stand out in bold relief like spending a couple of hours taking down your child’s swing set.
We put it up a decade or more ago, I guess. His grandfather - Laura’s dad - and I. It was one of those newer wood models, with a platform and awning that gave it this “fort” kind of vibe, a slide, a climbing wall, a cargo net - and, of course, some swings and a trapeze. Back in the day, my dad sunk the legs of a metal swing set into holes filled with concrete. That thing wouldn’t come out of the ground without a cutting torch. This one was staked down, and came apart relatively easily. Too easily, almost. It was disassembled and in a pile by the driveway after a couple of hours’ work. The next morning, the garbage collectors came and it was gone.
A girl from the neighborhood who’s about Josh’s age walked by while I worked. Her eyes wide, she gasped a little when she saw what I was doing. “You’re taking it down?” she asked.
“My son’s outgrown it,” I answered.
She walked on, and kind of thoughtfully, half to herself, she said, “I’d never outgrow that! I’d swing on it every day.”
I laughed quietly as she walked away. Yes you will, I thought to myself. Because that’s what kids do. They grow. They grow up. And because they grow, and because they grow up, they outgrow, too. There are some things of childhood, of necessity, left behind. Things that can’t be brought into adulthood - at least not without transformation.
We parents don’t really want it any other way, of course, though you wouldn’t know it sometimes to hear us talk. I guess that’s because childhood ends gradually, not all at once, and we see the writing on the wall from the moment that helpless baby raises his head on his own. We want our children to grow up, become strong, independent adults. We know they have to. But for us, there’s a sense that something is lost in the process.
Frankly, though, I might be a little worried if my 13-year-old son wanted to spend his time swinging and climbing on a swing set. A decade ago, it was perfect. Even 5 years ago. But now - well, it’s just not suitable for who Josh is now. It doesn’t fit with this more-mature version of my son. So - though we felt a little the loss of the little boy who used to play on it - we let it go, knowing he’s moved on in his growth.
And I know that’s a good thing. Even if I’m not feeling it at the moment.
I wonder if there’s anything from my childhood that needs to go?
I’m not talking about toys, of course. Or games or books or clothes. I mean that God calls us to a new birth in Jesus. When we’re first Christians, we’re babies. Children. And so it’s not all that surprising when we act like it. Dependence, weakness, preoccupation with playthings - these are all part and parcel of what it is to be a child. The Bible expects, however, that Christians will grow up and move on toward maturity. There’s something wrong, by definition, when a believer fails to grow up spiritually. When we cling to the habits, comforts, and behaviors of childhood, we are poor witnesses to the power of the Holy Spirit, poured out by the Father through the Son, to renew us, make us strong, and lead us to maturity.
Sadly, I think sometimes the church functions like a swing set: a distraction, a plaything, a place to get away from the stresses of the world and spend an hour or two laughing and playing, with the breeze in our hair and not a care in the world. But before we blame the church, let’s be honest and admit that’s exactly what a lot of us want from our churches. We want low demand and high entertainment. We want to escape. We want it to be fun, and we want our friends to be there, and we most certainly do not want demands, expectations or responsibilities.
If that’s all we want from our churches - and if that’s all our churches want to be - then it might be that we’d be better off dismantling the whole thing.
But I don’t think that’s necessary. I think all we need to do is embrace the idea that God doesn’t want us to be children forever. He’s looking forward to our growing up, and in his Son and through the Holy Spirit he has given us reason to expect that we will.
God expects that his children will grow up. He expects that we will move on toward maturity, and as we do that the things of childhood will be left behind. He expects that our playthings will be done away with and that our faith will take on the qualities of adulthood. He expects, in short, that we’ll grow to look more and more like Jesus.
So let us, for instance, decide to be serious about using the gifts, talents, resources, and opportunities God gives us to work for unity in the faith and in the knowledge of Jesus. We all have a place in the church, and none of us have been assigned to recess. Take your place among God’s people, and do the things he’s calling you to do.
Let’s learn to distinguish right from wrong, and seek the things and people that will help us to grow in Christ. We can hardly grow to maturity while we hold on to habits and people that work against it.
And let’s take responsibility for our failures and learn from our mistakes. Instead of repeating them mindlessly, let’s learn what makes us vulnerable and adjust our lives accordingly.
It may be time to get some of the things of childhood out of your life, to put childish ways behind you. In Jesus, you’ve outgrown all that stuff that used to be a part of who you were. It may be time today to put it behind you - and take the first step toward growing up in the Lord.
Once you get started, I think you’ll be surprised at how easily it comes down.