The other day I woke up at 5am with the words of St. Paul ringing in my ears, “When I was a child I thought like a child.” These words might as well have been audibly spoken in my ear for how real they seemed. I’m not sure if the phrase was only the vestige of an early morning dream or words spoken by the Father to wake me up or both.
To finish Paul’s thought, he says in 1 Corinthians 13, “When I was a child I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” What he’s actually talking about is love and growing up in love. Paul is comparing childhood vs. being a man to immaturity vs maturity in love. As I write this I’m realizing that there might be more to this wake-up message than my first interpretation captured so I’ll continue to meditate on the passage. For our purposes though, I want to share what those words meant to me originally.
As I lay in bed, my mind filling in the rest of the passage, it seemed clear to me that the words were an encouragement and a challenge. I felt God was prompting me to assess the childish things in my life and asking me to put them away. I thought about it for awhile and strongly considered rolling over and going back to sleep but I ended up getting out of bed early and going to to the living room to pray and start my day.
That was my first response to the challenge. It’s kind of embarrassing to say, but a major area of childishness in my life is my inability to get to bed on time and wake up early. So getting up was an immediate and positive response available to me. I got on my knees and took some time to talk to God about what he was telling me.
In any discussion of childishness it’s helpful to differentiate between childishness and being childlike. To be clear, being childlike is a must for spiritual maturity and for happiness. It’s a straightforward command from Jesus (Mark 10:15). Here are my definitions: being childlike is encapsulating the good qualities of children: their honesty, trust, ability to express their need, their freedom to play and laugh, etc. Being childish is encapsulating the bad qualities of kids: their selfishness, irresponsibility, narcissism, etc.
Since that morning I’ve been asking God, “What childish ways do I need to put away today?” Maybe it’s a single thought-habit of self-centeredness, maybe it’s a judgement you’ve been holding against someone, maybe it’s your inability to look people in the eyes when you talk to them, maybe it’s those raunchy college comedies that you waste your life on. I think if we make a daily habit of asking the question, “What can I put away?”, all kinds of stuff will come up and we’ll be better men because of it.
Put an emphasis on that word, “daily.” Don’t give up if you break a bad habit for a day and act like a punk kid the next day. Since that morning Paul’s words woke me up I’ve gone through my life-long cycle of staying up super late and waking up early, only to bemoan my wasted day. That doesn’t mean it’s all for naught. Walk with your Father in this and he won’t give up on you. He wants to bring you into full maturity and to increase you in stature and wisdom.