~~My son was the cutest baby and toddler you have ever seen. I know, I know. You protest. But truly, he really was. Everywhere we went people stopped to stare, and usually laugh. Tow-headed, rosy- cheeked, and in the 95th percentile for weight from birth until about age 3 – he was cherub chubby-bubby, alright?! I miss that baby. Something happens as the years pass and kids tend to grow up. Now he’s a skinny, six-foot tall man with smelly feet and a beard. No one stops to stare except to laugh, but that’s just the wardrobe. It’s a phase. It will pass. I assure myself of this often.
In my last post, I talked about Walby’s Jacket, and wearing the righteousness of Christ, and growing into it through righteous living. Someone pointed out to me that I left out an important aspect of that whole train of thought. So I started thinking about it and what it means to actually do the work of righteous living when we don’t have to. What’s the payoff? Why go to the effort? I mean, at the end of our days, we will be wearing a jacket that fits us as if tailor-made, so why not just sail in on Jesus’ coattails. (That’s called cheap grace, by the way.)
Well consider this. My aforementioned son is now almost 18. What if my adorable 12-month-old had decided that he was not going to give up bink nor bottle? And what if my 14-month-old (yes…he was THAT old) decided that walking was really just too much trouble and he preferred to be carried? What if, at nearly 18 years old, we took him out to dinner and while we ate, he threw his food around the booth, tore his napkin into confetti, wet his pants and bawled loudly about it, then burped aloud without excusing himself and banged his spoon on the table until we left? All those things were cute at one time (although some misguided individuals thought it annoying even then), but it would not be cute if he hadn’t actually overcome them at some point.
See what I mean? A Christian who has the full righteousness of Christ is not mature and complete until he grows into the behavior that demonstrates Christ’s righteousness. Instead, he’s like a baby-Huey: a big overgrown baby-Christian who’s still on a bottle and never graduated to solid food, never learned to walk on his own, always has to be carried, and is always in need of other people’s grace.
God has instituted certain developmental milestones in human life. It is a natural rite of passage for every child to move through these stages. If a child (like my 14-month-old walker) doesn’t hit that stage as quickly as other children do, moms worry! These signs of growth are natural. Growth is expected. It’s celebrated. And as every milestone is completed, we eagerly anticipate the next one until we’re packing their bags and getting ready to send them off to college amid the weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth… oh…sorry…I have these moments every now and then. Milestones! Yes! They are good!! They are natural. And if a child gets stunted along the way, we seek immediate intervention. But not so in the church. Why is that?
As I thought about all this, I realized that for the child, the milestone – the growth itself – brings its own reward of greater independence and choice. They learn to feed themselves. They learn to move themselves from one point to another to achieve a goal. They learn self-comfort. They learn to read and gather information. They learn to play and get along with others, and how to defend themselves on the playground. They learn the value of knowledge - and how to get it. Then they learn to use it! And on and on and on. It’s an exercise in self-actualization. Maybe that’s the wrong term – too new age. It’s an exercise in becoming what God intended from the beginning. Completeness. Life to the fullest. And the plan is no different for the Christian.
I was an adult when I started walking with God. Only I didn’t. Walk, that is. I did what babies do. I sat there in church completely helpless and let people feed me. (I was the one in adult Sunday school who, like Horshack, never put my hand down.) But then I wanted to know how they knew all this stuff and I started to get information for myself. I learned how to feed myself. Then I started watching how these Christian people did this thing, and I started to mimic them (not always the best way to learn good habits!). I started to crawl and then walk. Then I started to do some bigger things on my own. I messed things up, bawled about it, started again, and got it right the next time. And on the process goes.
Now here’s the thing. As my son has grown and added new skills and understanding to his maturity, he has become an even greater joy to me. I am thrilled to sit and have a conversation with this strange and fascinating alien-like creature, and I can’t wait to see what comes next. I am watching every moment, every experience, every change, knowing that one day those things will become his treasure. One day he will open the lid of the box, and there it will all be gleaming back at him, everything he needs for a full, healthy, functioning, wonderful life gathered together and waiting for him to cash in. This is how we gather treasure in heaven too. We constantly move forward in our growth until one day we open the box to realize that we have all we need to look like our Dad. Sound like our Dad. Act like our Dad. And voila! That is our treasure and very great reward! Everything we gathered as we grew is now fully developed and ready to deploy.
Now one last thought. Have any of you, as you’ve gotten old enough to borrow from your parent’s closet, slipped on a jacket and found money stashed in a pocket? (I usually only found used tissues, but such is my lot.) Yeah. Treasure in heaven is like that too. We get all the benefit of being able to wear dad’s coat, but there’s a bonus to boot: a little something extra tucked away just for this very occasion. One last nod in our direction. One last affirmation that the jacket finally fits and we are man (or woman) enough to wear it. So…grow. Grow into that jacket. It’s reward enough on its own not to be stuck on the cradle-roll, but the benefits…well…who knows what’s tucked in that jacket just waiting for you to be big enough to wear it?!