Becoming Childlike

 

0nce again Jesus provides guidance for us. "… ‘Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?’ He called a little child and had him stand among them. .4Jul He said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, ,. will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven…’" MATTHEW 18:1-3 (NIV).

            As a result of our dysfunctional upbringing, many of us act childishly rather than childlike. The skills needed to help us mature were absent, and we developed behaviors that are immature. As part of our healing process, we need to learn how to be childlike by allowing ourselves to be playful.  At the same time we need to be aware of our  childishness and accept responsibility for ourselves.

Some examples of childish behavior are:

§      Whining, manipulating or throwing temper tantrums to get our way.

§      Thinking, talking and reasoning like a child.

§      Demanding an excess of "toys" and creature comforts, or feeling we don’t deserve to have such things.

§      Not communicating our thoughts, feelings, or needs.

§      Being unable to make or act on decisions.

§      Letting other people think for us and care for us.

§      Not facing the consequences of our behavior.

§      Being self-centered, self-oriented and selfish.

§      Not seeing ourselves as deserving positive attention.

§      Pouting until others give in to our childish demands.

§      Being timid and shy or rude and aggressive.

 

Paul said, "..but when perfection (maturity) comes, the imperfect (immature and childish) disappears. 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 childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." 1 CORINTHIANS 13:10-12 (NIV) (parentheses mine).

Childish behaviors we exhibit as adults cannot stop until we realize what we are doing and make an effort to change. Again, Christ can be our hope and example if we only let him. Scripture presents Christ as having been raised in a healthy, functional family system. From descriptions in the Bible, it seems that his parents did not live in reaction to one another; thus, he did not have to live in reaction to his parents. "And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature , and in favor with God and man." LUKE 2:52 (KJV).

Jesus took full responsibility for all of his adult actions. There is no evidence in the Bible that indicates he developed the behavior patterns which are so often characteristic of adult children. Instead of blaming others, Jesus consistently forgave them. "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your ‘Father will not forgive your sins." MAITHEW 6:14-15 (NIV). To be freed of dysfunction and thereby experience wholeness, it is important that we fully forgive and that we experience full forgiveness. Forgiving those who wounded us is an essential part of recovery.

To help us look at our own behavior, we can ask ourselves these questions:

– Do I look and act like an adult?

 

– Do I talk, think and reason like an adult?

– Do I make adult decisions?

– Do I carry out adult responsibilities?

– Do I take care of myself?

 

In searching for answers to these questions, it helps to reflect on situations or experiences from our past. Some of the following factors which contribute to childishness in adulthood may apply to our own childhood:

We may have been crushed in spirit by our parents.

"Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord" EPHESIANS 6:4 (NIV). "A man’s spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?" PROVERBS 18: 14 (NIV). A crushed spirit can result when we repeatedly experience broken promises, attacks on our self-worth or intentional neglect.

 

 We may have been forced to grow up too fast.

When we have adult expectations and responsibilities placed on us as children, we often feel obligated to accomplish what was left undone by the adults in our lives. We might have been expected to fill in where they failed and understand life with adult comprehension. This may have kept us from the normal childhood experiences of playing, making mistakes and being spontaneous.

 

We may have had poor role models.

Adults who could be proper role models were often absent or didn’t spend the time necessary to teach us. In many situations, we were expected to be adults instead of being allowed to be children. Because of this, we often come to hate the role of a mature adult. Many of us still equate any form of adulthood with painful and often embarrassing childhood memories.

 

  We may have been punished abusively, often out of anger.

If we were punished for normal childhood misdeeds abusively and with anger, we were subjected to undue and unnecessary punishments. Many times we may have been condemned for simply being a child instead of being disciplined for willful disobedience. This form of punishment is very damaging and can be easily passed on to sub­sequent generations.

 

  We may have been deprived of clearly defined rules or boundaries.

We might have been allowed to do what we thought was best in childhood, or we may have been made to follow crazy, nonsensical rules. In Chapter Three, we listed some of the crazy rules we might have grown up with such as "don’t talk," "don’t trust," "don’t feel," and the damage that can come from obeying these rules. In order to function normally, we need clear instructions such as "You may watch television after you do your homework," or "I want to meet your friends before you go out with them."

 

Often, we either were not provided with the boundaries necessary in childhood, or our boundaries were unrealistic. For example, no one may have cared if we ever came home, or we may seldom have been allowed out of the house after school. Such treatment can result in a profound sense of insecurity and an inability to provide security for our own children.

Many problems which cause us to behave childishly can be a result of

damage during crucial developmental periods of our lives. If we suffered deprivation or abuse during the first five years of our lives, we probably have difficulty trusting others and committing ourselves in a trusting relationship. It may be especially difficult for us to trust God, whom we cannot see. We can experience healing and learn to trust by allowing ourselves to receive healthy touch, nurturing and unconditional love from others.

If we suffered deprivation or abuse between the ages of five and nine, we may experience difficulties in reasoning, communication and under­standing. We may lack the ability to express ourselves, our feelings and our goals, and our ability to think and act logically may be hindered.

If our curiosity was curtailed during this time, we may have problems speaking up for ourselves or believing we have something worthwhile to say. If we were not allowed to ask questions, or our questions went unanswered, we may feel unsure of our ability to make sound decisions.

Such problems can be healed in healthy relationships where we receive encouragement, patience and honest answers to our questions. To become whole, we need to communicate what we feel and think without fear of reprisal or rejection. It is also important to learn to ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom and discernment about how and what to communicate.

If our development was damaged during the ages of nine to fourteen, we may experience problems in relating to others. We may have difficulty in forming our own identity, feeling accepted for ourselves rather than for our performance, or doing what we honestly believe is best rather than what pleases others. If we were not affirmed for our person instead of our performance, our self-esteem is probably low, and our ability to handle peer pressure may be nonexistent.

Our healing can come through the acceptance and affirmation of our true selves in Christ. When we are appreciated for who we are instead of how we perform, we can begin to recover. When we find our identity, affirmation and acceptance in Christ and in our personal relationship with him, he extends his acceptance and affirmation of us through our family, friends and church community. If we do not have godly, healthy role models between the ages of fifteen to twenty, we may very likely have trouble understanding and coping with our sexuality, careers, marriages and children. If our role models lived by double standards, we may lack a healthy belief system, godly values or positive convictions and character.

These four periods of development are crucial to our becoming functional adults. However, many of us are still living with an injured child inside of us instead of living in Christ. Part of putting away childish behavior is to honestly face our developmental dysfunctions and learn how to cope with life more effectively.

One of the ways we can heal in these areas is to seek out healthy role models, starting with Christ. "For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive…" 2 PETER 1:5-9 (NIV).

 

."Following are some of the healthy childlike qualities that we may want to incorporate into our adult lives:

 

– The ability to live an uncomplicated life by simplifying our schedules, priorities and goals.

– The ability to laugh, relax and play.

– The ability to be creative and fresh, rejoicing in the miracle of new life in everything we do.

– The ability to be flexible in the face of life’s changes, without fear of the future.

– The ability to trust ourselves and others.

– The ability to have absolute faith and trust in God.

 

It is important that we determine what to retain from our childhood and what to give up. When we put away childish things and become childlike, we come into fullness and wholeness in Christ.

 

Individual Exercise

 

List examples of your current childish behavior.

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What factors in your childhood contributed to your current childish behavior?

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In what areas of your development were you forced to grow up too fast?

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How can you find the acceptance and affirmation you need?

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Describe your current ability to laugh, relax and play.

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What childlike behaviors do you want to start practicing?

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A creative way to use the Bible to aid in our recovery is to reflect on a vital passage and imagine ourselves as one of the main characters in the story other than Jesus. Pick a Bible passage that relates to ineffective behavior or to healing. Write at least two pages about the background leading up to the incident, how you felt during the incident, and how you feel after the incident. Following is an example of how this can be done:

One story describing dysfunctional behavior is that of Peter betraying Jesus after he was arrested. "’Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But 1 have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ But he replied, ‘Lord, 1 am ready to go with you to prison and to death.’ Jesus answered, I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.’" LUKE 22:31-34 (NIV).

"Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high Priest. Peter followed at a distance. But when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, ‘This man was with him.’ But he denied it. ‘Woman, 1 don’t knoll{ him,’ he said. A little later someone else saw him and said, Are you  also are one of them.’ ‘Man, I am not!’ Peter replied. About an hour later another asserted, ‘Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.’ Peter replied, ‘Man, 1 don’t know what you’re talking about!’ Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly." LUKE 22: 54-62 (NIV).

 

How did you feel when Jesus said he had prayed that your faith would not fail and that you would strengthen your brothers?

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How did you feel when Jesus said you would betray him after you         assured him you would go with him to prison and to death?

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How did you feel when people in the crowd after Jesus’ arrest said        they had seen you with him?

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What was going on in your mind when you denied him?

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What did it feel like when you looked at Jesus and suddenly remem­bered that he had predicted your betrayal?

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A healing story is that of the bleeding woman. ‘Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.’ Jesus turned and saw her. ‘Take heart, daughter,’ he said, ‘your faith has healed you.’ And the woman was healed from that moment." MA’ITHEW 9:20-22 (NIV).

            Imagine that you are the bleeding woman and that you go to a neighbor’s house that you trust to tell her what happened. . Describe how it felt to bleed for twelve years.

 

What had you heard about Jesus as a healer?

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What gave you the courage to touch his cloak?

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What did it feel like when Jesus spoke to you?

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How did it feel to be healed?

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Group Exercise

 

 As a child, what were your boundaries?  As an adult, how do you maintain healthy boundaries?

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Cite examples of your current behavior that indicate you are "be­ coming childlike."

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What difficulties do you have in relating to others?

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What difficulties do you have with trusting yourself and others? What do you believe causes this lack of trust?

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Who has sinned against you that you want to forgive? How will you accomplish this?

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What is your prayer request for yourself or others?

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Prayer Requests.

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