© 2010 David’s Harp and Pen
This blog is based, in part, upon actual events and people. Certain actions and characters have been dramatized and fictionalized, but are inspired by true events and real people. Certain other characters, events, and names used herein are entirely fictitious. Any similarity of those fictional characters or events to the name, attributes, or background of any real person, living or dead, or to any actual events is coincidental and unintentional, so I better not hear from Child Protective Services, Child Psychologists, or any parents. I’m all for preventing child abuse, but what about the too often ignored epidemic of babysitter abuse? When the little girl I watch throws my cell phone in the toilet, smacks me in the face because I had the audacity to make her sit in her car seat, or pounces on my stomach right after I’ve eaten lunch, who’s going to stand up for poor, defenseless me?
Children have always been drawn to me, except, of course, when I was a child. When I unexpectedly had to go back to work this year after having to take a break from school, the only job I could get was babysitting a small child during the day. I must admit that part of me is jealous of the kid. Some days, I wish I could get away with anything simply because I was little and cute. I think the main reason God allows children under the age of eight to be so cute is to prevent their parents from killing them when they are naughty. Should I ever have children of my own, I pray that they be ugly so I will not have trouble disciplining them. Being a small child also allows one to have mood swings for which someone my age would be declared schizophrenic and thus institutionalized. Of course, there is also the lesser-publicized benefit of being given exorbitant amounts of candy whenever the kid takes a trip to the bank, mall, or doctor’s office. Best of all, not only are midday naps perfectly acceptable, they are also greatly encouraged.
Before taking the job, I had been praying to God about growing in Christian maturity. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:1, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; now that I have become a man, I am done with childish ways and have put them aside.” Jesus said in Matthew 18:4, “Whoever will humble himself therefore and become like this little child [trusting, lowly, loving, forgiving] is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” When I read these passages, I got the sense that the Word condemned childishness but encouraged childlikeness. Hence began my little journey to discover the difference.
I decided that perhaps the best place to begin when attempting to understand the difference between childishness and childlikeness is to define the two words. So I looked them up in Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. ,
According to Merriam Webster, childish has three definitions:
”of, relating to, or befitting a child or childhood, marked by or suggestive of immaturity and lack of poise; childish: lacking complexity: simple; deteriorated with age especially in mind”
Merriam Webster also describes childlike as “resembling, suggesting, or appropriate to a child or childhood; especially: marked by innocence, trust, and ingenuousness.”
While I certainly found those definitions helpful, I realized I needed help applying them to my life, so I began to ask the Lord to help me understand the difference between the two. God, the great Canadian Comedian that He is, decided I would best learn this in the form of daily object lessons from the children placed in my care.
I must admit: this job has been more challenging than I thought it would be. Most days, I just have the one kid to watch, but some days, I have her brother and sister, too. One of my greatest frustrations is the competitiveness among the three. Their house has four bathrooms, three televisions, three large pieces of living room furniture, three brand-spanking new state-of-the-art video game systems, and two computers. However, all three kids have to be using the same (fill in the blank) at the same time. For example, if they all have to go to the bathroom at the same time, they will fight to use the same bathroom. Despite the abundance of cushy couches, not only will they have to be on the same couch at the same time, they have to be sitting on the same couch cushion at the same time. The other day, when I had to drive the three of them someplace, they fought over who would get into my car first, even though my car has four doors, which allowed each of the kids to enter the car at the same time with their very own door. The competitiveness is such that, if I were allowed to spank them, they would fight over which of them would get the honor to be spanked first. What’s worse is they will fight over something even if they have each have identical items. This happens mostly around mealtime. They often eat pizza for dinner, but no matter how evenly I slice the pizza, and even in light of the fact that I give them slices from the same pizza, they fight because they think somehow one of the other ones got a superior slice.
This was the first of childish behaviors God pointed out to me. Childishness questions the goodness of the Father and believes God shows partiality among His children based on silly, irrational whims, or that He would want to withhold His best from us for no apparent reason. Ephesians 6:9 says, “You masters, act on the same [principle] toward them and give up threatening and using violent and abusive words, knowing that He Who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no respect of persons (no partiality) with Him.” Jesus also tells us in Matthew 7:11, “If you then, evil as you are, know how to give good and advantageous gifts to your children, how much more will your Father Who is in heaven [perfect as He is] give good and advantageous things to those who keep on asking Him!” This isn’t to say that God won’t at times give something to one and withhold that same thing to another, but that is only because, since we are all in different places with God and stages in our spiritual growth, what is beneficial to one person at a certain time might be detrimental to another. However, one thing that doesn’t change is God wants His best for all of His children, and though His best may mean different things to different people, He never holds back what will be the most beneficial to each of His individual children.
Another example of childishness is conditional obedience. Jed, the boy in the family is a master negotiator. I foresee a successful future for him in law. Most of the time, when I ask something of him, the conversation goes something like this:
“Jed, pick up all these toys and put them away,” I’ll say.
“I’ll only pick up the toys that are mine,” he’ll respond.
“No, you played with all of them, so you have to put all of them away.”
“But Lexi played with all of them, too, and she doesn’t have to put any of them away.”
“It doesn’t matter what your sister does or doesn’t do. You have to do what I tell you, or you’re going to bed.”
“I won’t pick up the toys unless Lexi helps me.”
“Okay, then. You’re going to bed right now.”
“If you’re sending me to bed right now, I’m going to put a DVD on to watch while I fall asleep.”
“Oh no you’re not! You’re going straight to bed with no DVD.”
“Alright, but I’ll have to have milk and cookies first!”
“No! No milk and cookies, no DVD, no room service. Don’t you understand that going to bed early is punishment for disobedience?”
“But I’ve been a good boy!”
“No you haven’t. I told you to clean up the toys and you refused!”
“Yes, but I stopped choking the cat when you told me to, and I’ve been good because I didn’t hit you all day yesterday.”
“Not doing something you weren’t supposed to anyway doesn’t get you out of doing what you’re supposed to do, and that’s why I’m sending you to bed!”
“But you wouldn’t have to send me to bed if I didn’t have to clean up all those toys!”
“Don’t argue with me, Boy! It’s total obedience or you pay the piper!”
“Well what if I only clean up my toys, and I go to bed with cookies, but no milk?”
“Do I look like a car salesman to you? This is not a negotiation! I don’t offer options packages. You either do everything you’re told, or you’ll totally be punished!”
“Okay, I’ll clean up all my toys and go to bed with no DVD or milk or cookies. But only if I get to hit you first.”
“That’s it! Not only will you clean up all these toys, not only will you go to bed early with no snacks and no DVDs, but I’m going to ship you off to the Supernanny lady on TV!”
The Bible makes it clear that obedience is immediate and total. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 8:3, “But if one loves God truly [with affectionate reverence, prompt obedience, and grateful recognition of His blessing], he is known by God [recognized as worthy of His intimacy and love, and he is owned by Him]” (Emphasis added). Moses wrote in Exodus 15:26, “If you will diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord your God and will do what is right in His sight, and will listen to and obey His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases upon you which I brought upon the Egyptians, for I am the Lord Who heals you” (Emphasis added). In fact, the issue of total obedience is reiterated in the Books of Moses six more times. In God’s eyes, delayed and partial obedience are the same things as disobedience.
The last major facet of childishness God pointed out to me was self-sufficiency, not the good kind that makes a person take responsibility for himself, but the prideful kind that desires to look and be in control all the time to the point that one cannot admit his need for help or that he has weakness of any kind. McKenzie, Jed’s other sister, refused to brush her teeth for the longest time. Her breath got so noxious that, if she stood too close to me while she spoke, my skin would start to peel. Many heated arguments ensued, and what usually ended up happening was I would have to physically carry her to the bathroom, hold her down and her mouth open with one hand, and brush her teeth for her with the other. She would scream and cry and try to hit me each time I did it. I finally pinned her down one day and wouldn’t let her go until she told me why she didn’t want to brush her teeth. She told me it was because the flavoring of the particular brand of toothpaste her family used burned the inside of her mouth. So, we switched to a different brand of toothpaste, and it was no longer a problem. I asked McKenzie why she didn’t just say in the beginning the toothpaste flavoring was the reason she didn’t want to brush her teeth. She said she didn’t say anything because she didn’t want to look stupid, especially since her brother and sister were able to use that toothpaste without any problems. I told her, though, that she looked a lot stupider throwing a temper tantrum every time she had to brush her teeth than coming out and admitting she had trouble with the toothpaste. That is so much like most of us, however. In our attempts to look like we’re in control, that we don’t have any problems, that we don’t need anything, we do things that only cause us to look out of control and needy. Jesus stated plainly in John 15:5 that apart from Him we can do nothing, and a major part of allowing God’s power to work in us is admitting our need and weakness apart from Him.
Since I am not permitted to spank McKenzie, Jed, or Lexi, I must devise creative, non-corporal methods of persuasion. I learned early on one of the most effective threats I can make, no matter where we are or what we’re doing, is to leave them alone. For example, if I’m out in public with Jed, and he refuses to do something I’ve told him, even if he just told me he hated me, if I threaten to leave him behind or leave him alone, he will panic and scream, then tell me he’ll do whatever I ask. For little kids, there is no feeling worse than being abandoned by a parent or parental figure.
Part of Biblical childlikeness is the revelation that close communion with the Father is the greatest thing on earth, and there is no one or thing worth being separated from Him for even a second. King David, who had more worldly wealth, possessions, and accomplishments than most of us ever will, nailed it when he said in Psalm 84:2,10, “My soul yearns, yes, even pines and is homesick for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out and sing for joy to the living God. For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand [anywhere else]; I would rather be a doorkeeper and stand at the threshold in the house of my God than to dwell [at ease] in the tents of wickedness.”
Jed spends a lot of time in time out. In fact, to really drive home whatever point I’m trying to make with him, I make him spend time out in his old crib. The vertical bars on the crib give that nice, prison cell feel, so much so, that time out is now referred to as ‘Jed Jail.’ However, as much as he hates punishment, as much as he’ll say every hateful and hurtful thing he can think of to me to get me to commute his sentence, when time out is over, he will run to me and hug me, because he wants to know that he is forgiven. Then he will ask me to help him with whatever got him in trouble in the first place so that he won’t get in trouble again.
Often, whether I consciously decide this or not, when I’ve messed up, I stay in that prison cell long after my sentence is finished. I will scheme and strategize how to clean myself up and better myself so when I approach the Father again, I can successfully argue why I am now worthy of forgiveness, that I’ve corrected my own mistakes, and am therefore now able to resume my relationship with Him. However, like Jed does as soon as he’s finished his jail time, the arms of the Father should be the first place I run. Another important component of childlikeness is to run to Him first and quickly when I’ve sinned, when I’m in need, when I hurt. In the story of the Prodigal Son in the Book of Luke, once the prodigal realized how badly he had messed up his life, how far he had fallen from who he was meant to be, he went straight to his father.
Ever since I became a Christian back in 1987, I have longed to grow in my relationship with God and get to the place Peter talks about when he said, “You will be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” Back in November, I was upset with myself because I felt like I wasn’t making the progress I should. One night, I was talking to a girlfriend who had spent many years working in a women’s prison. She said many of the inmates had atrocious childhoods. One prisoner, at eight years old, witnessed her mother violently murdered. Even though the woman was now in her early 30s, she was emotionally never more mature than a little girl. My friend said she noticed with these women in the prison that, however old they were when the traumatic events in their lives transpired, that was the emotional age they stayed at as they got older. My friend’s words gnawed at me long after our conversation ended. I knew what she said applied to me. As far as my spiritual and emotional growth were concerned, I too felt like I was ‘stuck.’ Even though I was 35, I was still responding to the people around me and the circumstances that befell me in downright childish ways. At that time, I couldn’t pinpoint where exactly I had gotten stuck, or what I needed to do to fix the problem.
My heart was heavy with my lack of emotional and spiritual maturity as I began Thanksgiving Day 2009, and the events of the day didn’t help to improve my outlook. I went to a large Thanksgiving dinner at my Life Group leaders’ home, and in front of everyone, I experienced a wardrobe malfunction of mythic proportions. I felt self-conscious and silly for the rest of the day, even though I’m sure no one except me remembers my little clothing snafu. My mood grew progressively worse as the day wound down. Towards the end of the day, I tried to be of service to a girlfriend, but instead of being helpful, I succeeded only in being annoying. From the time I began to drive home on Thursday night well into Friday night, I bawled my eyes out. I began the regular practice of obsessing about the day, what I should’ve said and done differently, and convincing myself that my girlfriend would never speak to me again. Then I remembered what my friend, the former prison worker had said. I cried out to God, “Lord, what’s wrong with me? I’m a grown woman, but in so many ways I act and think like a child. There is something I can’t seem to get past. I want to grow up and walk in maturity, but something is holding me back. Please help me.”
I put the whole matter to fervent prayer and decided I would stalk God until I got the answers I needed. Since I didn’t have a job at the time, I barricaded myself in my apartment for the next week. I turned off the internet. I turned off my cell phone. I didn’t talk to anyone except God and Bruno, my dog. Friday night the following week, the Lord showed me where I had gotten stuck.
It was my first day of school, tenth grade. I had just started a new Christian school and was terrified. Every school I had attended previously, including another Christian school, I had been teased mercilessly and lacked any friends. I had recurring visions of the times I had been knocked to the floor or the dirt by classmates; of the school bully who slammed a volleyball into the side of my head in the first grade so hard that I lost part of my hearing in my right ear; of the boy behind me on the school bus who, after spitting into my hair over and over again, crumbled a chocolate cupcake on top of my head, to the delight of all the other kids on the bus; of the kids at the first Christian school I attended who told me all the time that I smelled and teased me because I couldn’t afford the expensive clothes they could; of my last day at that first Christian school, when I arrived in a new outfit, and when I couldn’t answer my classmate’s question as to the brand name of my new outfit, she snuck up behind me, put her hand down the back of my dress, and pulled the label out to see for herself. I’m happy to say that my experience at the second Christian school was wonderful, and I made many true, life-long friends. However, a harmful habit got set in place. I discovered that I could make my classmates laugh. Since my newfound sense of humor seemed to draw people to me, I took on the role of the one who always cheered up those around her, who solved all her friends’ problems, and who couldn’t be honest about herself and her own struggles.
This mindset stayed with me all through my 20s and halfway through my 30s. The week following Thanksgiving, I had to come face to face with the fact that the reason I was still reacting like a child in so many ways was because emotionally, I was still that 16-year-old high school sophomore, scared out of my mind, desperate for anyone to like me and be my friend, but who couldn’t shake the notions that no one would like me unless I performed; that like the proverbial problem child, although I was tolerated, I was not celebrated; that though the people around me cared about me, they didn’t respect me.
God showed me where and when I had gotten stuck in childish thinking and immature behavior. Next, I asked Him to get me unstuck. He then had me revisit that petrified teenager who started over in a new school. As I saw myself there, so unsure of myself, I suddenly saw Jesus standing there next to me. He put His arm around me and said to me, “Your Father loves you. He wants you to know that you are His child, and He has always approved of you.”
In the time that’s passed since that fateful Thanksgiving, I have experienced what I can describe only as spiritual growing pains. Knowing that God has always accepted me as His precious daughter has helped me mature by leaps and bounds. However, in the last three weeks, I found myself in familiar situations, and the temptation to behave and think childishly was painfully overwhelming. In some of those situations, I persevered. In others, I failed miserably. When I went back to God with my frustration, He said something to me that most people would’ve assumed was a given, but opened up a whole new level of freedom and maturity for me. He said, “Sharon, you don’t have to grow up spiritually by yourself.”
Without going too much into detail, most of my life, I spent most of my time growing up alone. I had to learn too much on my own. I didn’t get a whole lot in the way of guidance, except after I tried to figure things out by myself and failed. In recent days, though, God has told me over and over again that He will not leave me to my own devices when it comes to maturity in Him. He is with me every step of the way, not only to direct me in the way I should go, but also to model for me what a grownup Christian looks like. When it comes to God, there are no questions too stupid to be asked when I need help. He assures me in James 1:15, “If any of you is deficient in wisdom, let him ask of the giving God [Who gives] to everyone liberally and ungrudgingly, without reproaching or faultfinding, and it will be given him.” The Apostle Paul echoes this hope in Philippians 1:6 when he says, “And I am convinced and sure of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you.”
Because of my Father’s great love for me and approval of me, I am able to move from childishness to Christian maturity. I long for the day when Christ is fully formed in me, and I am brought to completion, and I hear the words, “well done, good and faithful servant.” As I grow up, I want to be just like my Father, and my Father will see to it that His little girl grows up big and strong.