Growing up is hard work.
I mean that in the metaphorical sense, but also in the very real, very literal sense.
You began your existence as a single cell, which multiplied at an incredible rate until it became trillions—each of them designed by God to go exactly where it needed to go and become exactly what it needed to be.
As you continued to grow in your increasingly cramped little cave, you were changing drastically. Some cells became your brain. Others became your eyes, your ears, your nose, your mouth. Your five senses started to come online. You could see—but everything was a dim and fuzzy shade of red. You could hear, but everything was muffled and distorted by the liquid around you. You could taste, but only in a limited way.
And then, one day, everything you knew disappeared. You were forced into a strange new world—and even though your five senses didn’t change, they were immediately flooded with input they’d never had before. Your eyes were perceiving the entire visible light spectrum; your ears were hearing noises with greater clarity, and your nose was processing all kinds of brand-new smells. Everything you knew about how the world worked was turned on its head, and you were having to cope with it all at once.
And then a doctor probably smacked you.
Growing up is hard work.
* * *
And that’s just day one.
Your world didn’t stop changing for a long, long time. You weren’t born being able to intentionally control your arms or your legs. You weren’t born being able to focus your eyes on the things you wanted to look at. You weren’t even born with object permanence. For a brief period of your life, if something left your field of vision, it was like it had never existed.
It wasn’t a matter of, “Hey, where did that red ball go?” It was a matter of, “What red ball?”
But your brain continued developing, and eventually you were able to understand that there was more to reality than the things you can perceive in any given moment. Of course, that meant you also understood that sometimes, your mom was doing the unthinkable. She was walking away. Leaving you by yourself. Maybe forever.
Growing up is hard work.
* * *
But you grew. And you learned. The first few years of our lives are filled with those moments of enormous cognitive development, where we develop the capacity to understand and interact with the world in brand new ways that had never even occurred to us as possible.
Every time that happens—when we develop object permanence, when we develop a sense of self, when we start to recognize cause and effect, when we start to process symbolism—it literally changes our world. One day we wake up and realize, “Oh wow, when I do something, it makes other things happen.”
That’s huge. That changes how we look at everything we do for the rest of our lives.
Parents, you’ve seen your children hit those milestones. I’ve watched Prim hit dozens of them, and now I’m watching Peter hit them as well, all while Prim goes on to tackle brand new ones.
I have conversations with Prim now. Conversations. That boggles my mind. We talk about her day. We talk about things we’ve done together. We talk about how she’s feeling. We’ve even started to talk about abstract concepts.
A few months ago, while we were playing, I told her she was making a good effort. She paused and asked, “What effort mean?” So I had to do my best to explain the concept of effort.
We could not have had that conversation two years ago. I don’t think we could have had it two months earlier, honestly. And it’s crazy for me to think that there are even more milestones ahead of us. The more she grows in how she sees the world, the deeper and more meaningful our conversations are going to be. I’m excited about that. I’m excited about being able to sit down with my children and talk with them about the things that really matter.
But we’re not there yet. There are some concepts that are still beyond her at the moment. Some concepts that will be beyond her for years. But she’s getting there. She’s moving forward.
* * *
Sometimes I wonder if that’s how God feels about us. I see so many parallels about the way Prim and Peter are growing physically and the way we’re supposed to be growing spiritually. I wonder if God gets excited knowing that we’re getting closer to spiritually comprehending concepts that aren’t even on our radar. I wonder if He’s eagerly anticipating us coming to the point where we can have a genuine conversation with Him about the things that really matter.
Prim is great with numbers. She’s been counting for quite a while now, and we’re starting to explore the world of addition. But what about multiplication and division? Linear algebra? Trigonometry? Calculus?
She’s not at a place where I can even begin to explain those concepts in a way she’d understand. (I mean, it doesn’t help that I barely understand some of them myself.) But she doesn’t even know those concepts exist. She doesn’t even have the context to understand the implications of that existence.
But one day, she will. So will Peter.
* * *
Prim is also in the “why” phase. And I know, I know a lot of people talk about how terrible that is, but Mary and I love it. Is it exhausting sometimes? Oh, absolutely. It’s not easy to navigate a constant stream of inquiry into everything. But she wants to know. She wants to understand. She has a genuine desire to make sense of the world around her, and we want to foster that.
But sometimes I can’t answer all her “whys.” Not because there is no answer, but because she can’t understand it yet. She’s asking questions about advanced calculus, but she hasn’t mastered addition.
I wonder about that, too. We often talk about the questions we don’t have answers to in God’s Word. Not contradictions, just… pieces of the puzzle God chose not to share with us yet. We can read the Bible and come away wondering, “Well, how exactly is God going to accomplish X, Y, or Z?” or, “How is X, Y, or Z even possible?”
What if God sat down with you and answered every single question you have right now?
Would the answers even make sense?
I’m not asking, “Would we disagree with God’s reasoning?” but, “Do we even have the mental capacity to understand the kind of concepts He’d be sharing with us?”
I don’t think so. Forget calculus—I think it would be like explaining quantum mechanics to a toddler. We might understand a few of the words involved, but it’s not like we’re going to really understand what’s going on.
But one day.
* * *
Author C.S. Lewis had been married to his wife for three years when he lost her to cancer. The journals he kept as he processed that death eventually became part of a book he published called A Grief Observed, which includes one of my favorite quotes:
When I lay these questions before God, I get no answer. But rather, a special kind of ‘no answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.’
Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask—half our great theological and metaphysical problems—are like that.
The apostle Paul wrote, “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 13:11-12).
I used to think that Paul was using “childish things” as a put-down. As if he was saying, “You have to put away these childish things in order to grow up spiritually.” But that’s actually the reverse of what he’s saying here. He was saying, “When we physically mature, our childish speech, childish understanding, and childish thoughts are naturally replaced with something deeper.”
No child decides, “Today, I will put aside my childish thoughts and start thinking like an adult.” That’s not how that process works. That happens as we mature, not because we decide to mature. As we grow, our brains are literally changing to accommodate new thought processes, new ways of understanding the world.
In other words: spiritually, we’re not finished growing. None of us. Paul said, “We know in part and we prophesy in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9). We don’t have the whole picture yet. We have the parts of it we’re capable of understanding. We still see in a mirror, dimly. We’re not there yet, and that’s okay. We’re not supposed to be there.
* * *
Paul continued, “When that which is perfect [or “complete”] has come, then that which is in part will be done away” (1 Corinthians 13:10).
There’s nothing shameful about “childish things.” They are an important and inescapable part of our progression to spiritual maturity. They aren’t things we put away in order to get to the next level—they’re things that naturally put themselves away as God opens our eyes to see the next level.
You don’t still struggle to focus your eyes. You don’t panic anymore when a loved one leaves your field of vision. You have put away those childish things, not because you chose to, but because your natural cognitive development caused you to see the world differently.
Spiritually, we’re experiencing a similar process.
And it is a process—a process made possible by nothing less than the Holy Spirit of God Himself.
Before Paul talked to the Corinthians about childish things, he told them, “The Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit [which] is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-12).
On our own, we do not have the ability to understand these spiritual truths. The Spirit is what helps us start making sense of them—helps us start seeing the world a little more accurately. I think it’s interesting that Jesus referred to the process of receiving the Spirit as being “born again” or “born from above” in John 3.
That says a lot. When we are baptized and given the Spirit of God, it opens up a whole new way of seeing and processing the world. That perspective change can be as radical as a newborn seeing and hearing the outside world for the first time.
* * *
That also tells us that it’s not about being perfect on day one. It’s about heading that direction. And make no mistake, family, it is vital that we are heading that direction. But this isn’t so much about how far along that pathway we are, or how many bumps we’ve had along the way—this is about the fact that we are moving. That we’re allowing God, through His Holy Spirit, to guide, mold, and direct us as we begin to put away the childish things in favor of…
…Well, in favor of what, exactly?
Let’s see what Paul has to say one more time. He reminds us that our goal is to “come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ” (Ephesians 4:13-15).
* * *
I doubt anyone reading this feels like they have come to the “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” But that’s the goal. That’s the ultimate destination. That’s where God is guiding us through our spiritual development. Slowly but surely, we are all engaged in the process of growing up in all things into Him who is the head.
We won’t get there today. We won’t get there tomorrow. Let’s cut ourselves a little slack and not expect to grow an impossible amount in an impossible time frame. We’re not going to develop the fullness of the stature of Christ in a day, or a year, or a decade, or even decades.
But we are going to get there.
One day, we are going to put away the childish things—things we don’t even know are childish right now.
One day, we are going to stop asking God how many miles are in an hour and whether yellow is square or round.
And one day, we are going to know God the Father, just as He also knows us.
Growing up is hard work.
But it is so, so worth it.
Until next time,