Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Learning to Walk—As an Adult
By Micky Wolf
If you have ever observed a young child beginning to walk, you know the experience can be one of joy mixed with angst, for both of you. Clutching a slippery wood chair arm with both hands while straining to move one leg closer to the cushiony couch can seem a distance of miles, in kid-awareness. And then there’s a crash, hopefully, onto a more forgiving surface of plush carpeting. Stunned, the courageous little one reaches up once again, grabs whatever is handy—and keeps on going.
We may chuckle with the eager learner if they aren’t much worse for the wear. On occasion, we may need to wipe away some tears and kiss a bruised knee. Without a doubt, we root for them every tiny step of the way. But I wonder—do we reserve our all out encouragement for the pint-sized among us while overlooking the possibilities of being as supportive among our grown up selves?
Beyond toddler tumbles…
Whether you are new at living the Christian life or have years of experience under your spiritual belt, the one thing all of us share is our tendency to trip and fall at times—otherwise known as sinning. And it’s usually not much fun to recognize the error of our ways, especially if God chooses to work through another human being to help us see Truth.
Some sinning is rather obvious and obviously messy: infidelity or swiping a few bucks from the office petty cash drawer come to mind. On the other hand, many of us can get caught in less destructive, yet equally un-Christ-like actions—yelling at a loved one or being impatient are all too familiar behaviors.
You would think that given our collective propensity to say and do things that hurt others or self would be motivation enough to stop doing it, whatever ‘it’ is, but that is mostly impossible in our earthly lifetime. So what are our options? It might be helpful to consider how making different choices could minimize the collateral damage.
Hidden in plain sight…
When it comes to adults, it seems like we assume that because a certain physical or intellectual maturity is present, it’s okay to be less accepting when another person makes a mistake. We can be terribly cruel—in a self-righteous pious sort of way—when the sinner is exposed in some manner or form.
No wonder, then, that most of us have learned how to hide our sinfulness, usually in the well-intentioned belief that certain things need to be kept out of public sight. And there is enough wisdom in making that choice to merit our respect. Nevertheless, the downside of working so hard at keeping things hidden is the energy it takes and the isolation we can experience, which may only exacerbate the intensity and frequency of the very behavior we find so distasteful to begin with. Kept under wraps long enough, we may find ourselves in a yuckier mess—wallowing in the darkness of shame and condemnation.
This kind of behavior reminds of a beautiful, mild-mannered orange tabby cat, a family pet we had years ago that lived to a ripe old age. Once in awhile it would decide to hide by crawling head-first under the sofa. The only problem was the back third of said cat was clearly obvious to anyone who happened to pass by.
We necessarily and appropriately give a child multiple opportunities to fall and try again because we believe they will eventually be able to stand and walk on their own. When it comes to our spiritual journey there are numerous choices we could make that would be equally empowering in our shared desire and hope to ‘grow up’ and be all that God has created us to be. [Ephesians 4:13-16]
...time is a gift—when the youngster falls, we usually wait a few moments so they can organize their body parts and try again. Not feeling rushed can be a wonderful offering of encouragement. As with our stumbling—when we eventually realize what we have done, allowing one another the time to consider and take responsibility for our actions will go a long way toward reconciliation or mending broken relationships.
…attitude animates—if my tone of voice or body language is demeaning or judgmental, the toddler will be the first to feel it and become frustrated or confused. And so it is with you and me. We usually know, beyond a shadow of doubt, when another person is condescending or critical. We can quickly become demoralized or begin to believe we are incapable of making better choices. While we do need God’s grace in all things, we also thrive and flourish when others point out the positives rather than dramatize the negatives of our personalities and personhood.
…change can be challenging—learning something new and different is not simply a matter of saying it is so and then doing it right from the get go. It’s easy to forget the first time we tried to ride a bike, dance with a partner, or begin a new job. If I have committed to being as Christ-like as I can in any given moment, practice will not make me perfect, yet transformation is not only possible, we are assured it is so by the very nature of who God is as He works within these flawed, earthen vessels.
…firm and gentle—when the little one collapses in a heap, for the umpteenth time, it is tempting to want to scoop them into our arms and take them to their where they wanted to go. Not a bad choice—when used sparingly. The reality is, we all need a more than a hand-up at times and no one is better equipped to do that than our loving God. On the other hand—punt intended—too much “doing for” and we end up as infants, long into our adult years. It takes courage to stand back and allow the child to cry while begging to be saved the trouble, but in the long run, there will be no long walk [or run] if we choose to rescue them every time it gets hard. The same is true for you and me. We don’t do one another any favors if we are complicit or enabling of sinful choices and actions.
Learning to walk as a Christ-follower in the paths He sets before us is a journey unique to each of us. Yet, we will stumble. We will fall. We will need to get up again and again and continue on the way. In the meantime, maybe one of the most important choices we will face is that of choosing to be merciful, gracious, and loving—of others as well as self.
How do I feel when I stumble and sin?
Do I tend to try and keep my sinfulness hidden? Why?
Do I need an attitude adjustment toward those who sin? Myself?