Places That Increase Our Holiness

Learning to put away childish things

Sep 04, 2023

God Personal Growth Reflections Change Seasons
grayscale of two young girls laughing

Photo by Caroline Hernandez

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.

~1 Corinthians 13:11

I’ve been reflecting on this verse for some time now, especially as I’m nearing my 40s. The instruction is simple enough. But can I be honest? This is something I struggle with. Have for my entire adult life. I have always thought of myself as a child at heart, viewing the world with a childlike naiveté. I’d like to think it’s how God made me. Jesus even proclaims in Matthew 18:3 that “unless [we] turn and become like children, [we] will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” But what if this childlikeness becomes a crutch, preventing us from growing up and stepping into our adult roles? How do we reconcile the commands to “become like children” yet also to “put away childish things”?

These were the questions roaming around in my mind as I tried to understand God’s words. Not only am I struggling with this balance of seemingly two opposite directives, I have a strange resistance to it. I have so identified with this part of me, that it seems letting it go will mean losing an essential piece of my identity. How do we put something away but maintain its essence? I wondered.

Maybe it’s my middle-child nature, I tell myself. Not feeling that sense of responsibility that the oldest in the family does. Or perhaps it’s the pitfalls of adulthood that seem unappealing—paying bills, the 9-5 grind, the monotony, the physical aches of aging, relational conflict, the diminished enthusiasm for the little joys. Why would anyone willingly sign up for that? Is it any wonder some of us try to hold on to our youth as long as possible?

This is where I’m landing after much reflection—God doesn’t call us to places that will increase our pleasure and comfort, He calls us to places that will increase our holiness.

He is drawing us ever closer to a Christ-likeness. And that, undoubtedly, means transitioning into adulthood, with its plethora of opportunities to grow our character. Children, as pure as they are, have a cap on maturity for the mere fact that their brains only develop to a certain point at their age. It cannot go beyond that. Adults, by contrast, have the capacity to keep maturing.

Perhaps God asks us to put away childish things so that His work in us can be complete. Or rather, so that it can begin. How can we learn true forgiveness unless it doesn’t come naturally like it did in childhood? How can we learn the true meaning of friendship unless we face conflict, overcome it, and choose to maintain the relationship? Though most children may relate to others with ease, is it anything more than play? As much value as it holds, it doesn’t allow for the refining work God needs to do in us over time.

I am realizing now that my resistance to growing up is largely fear-based… an avoidance of all the hard stuff of adulting. Strife, rejection, betrayal, heartbreak, cruelty, grief—all the things we try to shield our children from. My sensitive heart aches too easily, it doesn’t take much. Grow thicker skin, they say. How can I have thick skin but ensure it’s also thin enough to empathize with others’ pain? To let my heart be moved to the point of taking righteous action without shattering? These are things I’m still learning.

I do know this—every season God has us in has a purpose, and it lasts as long as it needs to for us to learn the lesson contained within it.

What season are you in? What are you finding difficult to let go of? God is asking each one of us to “put away” something. Greed, lust, selfishness, anger, hatred, jealousy, the list is endless. We are being called to a more mature way of being and relating. Our resistance will only serve to prolong our growth and all the astonishing things God wants to do in us and through us. So we begin relinquishing to Him all the areas in which we refuse to evolve, knowing the plans God has for us, “plans to prosper [us] and not to harm [us], plans to give [us] hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Will I put away all childish things tomorrow? Probably not. But I can work on being less selfish, more forgiving, quicker to apologize first. I can take steps, praying for the strength to change along the way. And I can shift my perspective about adulthood. Does it have challenges? Absolutely. But it also has immeasurable joys—the relishing of a close relationship with God, the rewarding feeling of accomplishing a meaningful goal, the cherished sense of community, countless opportunities to make a difference in the lives of others, the delight of sharing one’s gifts with the world.

These are the offerings on the other side of relinquishing. For God never asks us to surrender something without having something better to offer us in its place. We are His children, after all, and He knows what we truly need. As tempting as it is to hold on to our childish ways, we can choose to embrace a holier calling. We can lean into the daunting task of growing up while still carrying with us the gems of childhood—curiosity, playfulness, a zest for life, and a willingness to learn and figure things out. Maybe in heaven I’ll get to be a child forever, but for now, I’ll stubbornly put away childish things.