“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 the ways of childhood behind me” (1 Cor. 13:11).
Have you ever walked into the living room on Christmas morning to find your husband sitting in the middle of the floor playing with a new train set? There is nothing wrong with a grown man or woman taking a few minutes out of an otherwise physically and emotionally taxing day to have fun. But it’s another matter altogether when an adult copes with the important matters of life from the emotional standpoint of a child.
If you are married to a fifty-year-old kid, who doesn’t know when it’s time to be the father or husband, after a while the cuteness of your husband’s antics are replaced by a growing resentment that he has abdicated his role as father and husband to relive his childhood. If your wife still acts like she’s a college girl, when she is approaching her fifties or sixties, the fun of having a wife who enjoys being “young” is quickly replaced with a need for a companion who recognizes the need for maturity and intimacy in the latter years of marriage. Similar emotions are stirred in adult children who have reached greater maturity than their parents.
I am not suggesting we walk around with frowns on our faces, never letting the child inside all of us out to play. Rather, I am suggesting the need for balance. We’ve all known or lived with a proverbial child who was going on forty, fifty, or sixty. Unable to make decisions from the healthy stance of adult maturity, this person either jokes his or her way through life or pitches a temper tantrum to get his or her way. Either response is inappropriate and leaves many relationships fractured or broken because a parent or spouse was unable to assume the role of adult.
All of us have a history that is hidden by years of conditioning and grooming. It is still there, no matter how “good” we may look on the outside. Most of the time, we never see beneath the surface of those we come in contact with. It’s the same with a tree. We only see part of it. Deep beneath the surface are its roots. So too, it is with us. Deep beneath the surface is where our foundation was laid and where we will discover (if we persist) what makes us act childish instead of prudently. To the observer, the man or woman who throws a temper tantrum is a spoiled brat, but God understand what lies beneath the surface and knows we have to go deeper – to the very roots – to develop into mature sons and daughters of the living God.
When Paul told us to put away childish things, he recognized the importance of allowing God to invade our lives and mature us as His children. Acting out is the hidden enemy of love. When a man or woman holds onto a grudge, letting resentment brood until it blossoms into full-grown anger or hatred the consequence is obvious. When a person has to be first all the time, ahead of the other family members, feelings of abandonment and rejection can quickly get out of hand.
We are often emotionally disabled in adulthood because of the baggage we bring with us from the past. It would be the worst form of denial to conclude our past has no effect on our present. Paul encourages us to grow up and render our past dead to what we know is reality today.
All of us would agree that we love to see a man or woman who can get down on the floor and play with the kids – enjoying life as a family. However, it’s a different story when the man or woman has to be the center of attention and get his or her way every time. Certainly, when the little boy or little girl takes over the adult, there are major problems.
If you questioned counselors concerning the basic problem behind a person’s way of coping with life, they would give you the same answer over and over again: performance based behavior. Such a response to stress manifests itself in perfectionism; inferiority complexes; feelings of shame, failure, inadequacy, and more.
Since what we learn as children continues to influence the way we look at things in our adult years, we need to get a handle on which beliefs need to be discarded and which should be kept. Five examples of faulty belief patterns are as follows:
“I have to be perfect, so I will be accepted.” This is perfectionism to the extreme. I’ve seen children who are afraid to bring home a B on their report card because mom or dad won’t be satisfied. Who is the child in that picture? Those of us who believe our worth is based on perfection are setting ourselves up for a lifetime of disappointment that will filter into our children and grandchildren. A perfectionist cannot allow anyone to fail, especially a family member. It wouldn’t look right. People who believe love is based on their ability to measure up never feel safe or secure. It’s a tragic way to live.
“I’ll never amount to anything.” The person who has grown up hearing that message repeated over and over again develops an inferiority complex. The one who believes that lie is set up for a lifetime of failure, draining anyone who dares to get close.
“I’m inadequate.” A person who believes this lie will either try to overcompensate by being “too good” or will give up completely and avoid any relationship that requires intimacy. In a marriage, this negative attitude creates tension and defensiveness that will destroy the relationship unless both partners are committed to seeking God’s guidance through this faulty belief system.
“If I can’t have my way, I’ll throw a fit.” Many mothers and fathers teach this attitude to their children by the way they respond to each other. This attitude says, “If I act ugly enough, I’ll get what I want.” This translates into adults perfecting their tantrums through silence or screaming and hitting. Each adult who acts this way has his or her own way of getting what he wants, and she knows which way is the most effective. Children are quick to pick up on their parents’ way of coping. Many parents have to deal with a child who pouts until they give in, and they wonder where the child learned such obnoxious behavior.
“I must have things to be secure.” This way of thinking is also based on performance because of the need to have material possessions. The faulty belief says if I don’t perform well I won’t ever have the financial means to get what I think will make me secure. That translates into a no-win situation where materialism and financial stress can quickly destroy a relationship. Greed always demands more.
Are we holding onto any faulty beliefs that could be destroying our lives and hindering our Christian growth?