Growth is turbulent.
That’s what I’ve discovered in my time as a parent.
Mary and I have three—three!—kids now, and I’ve watched this truth play out over and over again.
The turbulence, from our perspective, always feels like it comes out of the blue. We find a rhythm, we establish habits, we have a system that works, things make sense—and then, without warning, chaos.
Sleep schedules go topsy-turvey. Moods fluctuate rapidly between wild extremes. Everything in the world is either hilarious or devastating or infuriating. Tasks that were second nature yesterday become nightmarish challenges today. There are tears. Confusion. Frustrations. Screams. Misunderstandings. Clashes of wills.
Right about the time that Mary and I start looking out the window to check for a full moon or maybe the apocalypse, we notice it:
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By definition, the Change™ is always something new, so it’s hard to spot. But the seeds of it are always there, in the midst of the chaos. Something is different—the way they move, the way they’re thinking through things, the words they’re using. They’re growing.
In developmental psychology, these moments are often called “leaps”—the rapid acquisition of a new set of skills, which ultimately result in a new way of seeing the world.
That’s the important bit. These aren’t just fancy new party tricks. Developing object permanence changes the way you see the world. Realizing a string of motions can be connected to a single action changes the way you see the world. Refining your depth perception changes the way you see the world. Understanding cause and effect changes the way you see the world. Learning to walk changes the way you see the world. Learning to verbalize your thoughts changes the way you see the world.
And it doesn’t just change the way you see it—it changes the way you exist in it. Each of those milestones changes the way you interact with the world—forever.
There’s a reason all these leaps are accompanied by chaos.
They are, quite literally, life-changing. They fundamentally alter the way our brains are wired. They change what we perceive, what we understand. They throw our internal world into chaos—it only makes sense that the stress, the uncertainty, the newness of it all would spill over into our external world, too.
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I’m learning to be patient when these leaps crop up. I try to remember how I’d want to be treated if the inner workings of my world suddenly became unfamiliar and intimidating.
Not that it’s easy. Sometimes I’m holding back my own shouts and screams and tears. Sometimes I want to grab their shoulders and ask what in the world they were thinking. But of course, that’s the point. Their brains are developing. Their thinking isn’t defensible. It’s all a bit of a murky soup, and they’re trying their best.
When the tough days start clumping together, I start looking for the Change™. I start trying to peer beyond the symptoms so I can understand what’s really going on and how I can help make the process easier.
I think being a Christian is a lot like being a kid. The same way a child’s mind has all this neuroplasticity—the same way it’s designed to tackle these enormous cognitive leaps at specific intervals as it matures—God’s Spirit also provides us with the potential for incredible change and growth.
But it’s hard.
We want growth to be a perfect, predictable upward slope, but it’s not.
Spiritual growth turns our world upside down. It’s uncomfortable. It’s a little scary. It forces us to see, to exist in the world differently. It makes it hard to react the way we ought to react or say the things we ought to say.
Thankfully, our perfect Father in heaven is patient with us—more patient than we can be with our own kids sometimes.
I’m glad for that. If I was in God’s shoes, I would have lost my cool with myself many, many times. But “the Lord … is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, ESV). He gives us time to make sense of a spiritual way of thinking that is constantly unfolding into something bigger and grander before our very eyes—not that the way itself is changing, but that our perception of it is. Our understanding changes. We change. We grow.
* * *
Being a parent is without a doubt the most rewarding, exhausting, exciting, terrifying, gratifying, fantastically wonderful adventure I have ever been on in my life.
I think about what my three kids were capable of when they came into this world, and I step back and compare that with what they’re capable of now, and it boggles my mind. Even Oliver, not two months old yet, has been growing and changing in amazing ways. Learning to focus his eyes. Learning to observe. Learning to listen.
Peter just figured out how to jump with two feet. He’s starting to put strings of words together. “Not hot!” “Hold Mama!” “Tag you, Prim Prim!” “Awwwww, baby cute!” He’s mastering all sorts of motor skills and even working on some elements of self-control.
And Prim… where to begin with Prim? I sit down and have conversations with her. She asks for explanations and understands most of them. She makes logical connections I haven’t even considered. She dresses herself, brushes her teeth, points out shapes and numbers and words, and has a list of things she’s excited to do when Jesus comes back to the earth. (Fly to Grandma’s house is somewhere at the top.)
Then I think about where they are now and where they will be one day, and my head just spins. There’s so much growth ahead of them still. So many changes. So many leaps to push through. All of it part of the process that God designed when He shaped us from the dust.
* * *
My point is—that is to say, if I have a point—which I think I do—is this:
The God who knows what it takes for little children to grow in a physical sense knows what it takes for you to grow in a spiritual sense.
He is patient. He is kind. He loves you and He wants to see you grow.
The days that are frustrating, the days that don’t make sense, the days when you want to scream and yell and cry and laugh all at once, the days when the world you know is collapsing on itself—these days are part of the process.
They’re not fun. They’re exhaustingly difficult. But those days are reminders that you’re moving forward—that you’re not stagnant. If we began and ended our journey as spiritual babes (1 Peter 2:2), there would be no challenge, no difficult moments—no growth. The world would always look the same to us, because our understanding of it would never improve.
No, our job is to keep on growing “to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children. … Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:13, 15).
The leaps are scary. The leaps don’t always make sense while they’re happening. But when we “let patience have its perfect work,” we allow God to help us to become a little more like our big Brother, “that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:4).
Growth is turbulent. The leaps are hard.
But in the end, it’s the leaps that take us where we need to go. Even when they feel like chaos—even when they turn our world upside down—remember that things are going to make a whole lot more sense on the other side.
Until next time,