“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things…” 1 Cor. 13:11
I was recently confronted with a pleasant experience with someone that I grew up with. In our early years, we were not friends and they actually bullied me. When I entered their place of employment, they greeted me with a surprised but welcoming smile. “It’s been a long time! I owe you an apology.” Confused, I couldn’t see why this person would feel the need to presently apologize to me, as I hadn’t seen them in years. They went on to speak candidly about our behavior as children. Then he said something so poignant that it arrested me: he soberly said, “since those years I have seen me…I had grown tall, but I hadn’t grown up.”
This made me quite introspective. What places in his life had brought him to this realization? How life has the tendency to humble us. It can be the sober understanding that we are not the sort of young man who could run four full-court games without so much as a drink of water. It could be the pain of knees buckling as a woman chooses to put on that slinky heel and walk with failure. Life will always remind us that we are in constant evolution. The difference between growth and movement, however, is not merely aesthetic. It is an inner decision to evolve.
The Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthian church speaks to this point. In the thirteenth chapter, he eloquently describes said evolution. He describes the character shift that we must allow in order for growth. When we are children our understanding, speech, and process are shallow. This gives credence to the truth that “childhood” is not merely age-specific. There are so many people we interacted with on a daily basis who have “grown tall”…their appearance has been enhanced due to years and they look to be mature. But maturity happens in the heart. In its original context, maturity literally means “perfection, the act of perfecting.” In order to perfect a thing, it must be rehearsed consistently, failing at times and putting in work to obtain an infallible result every time.
The month of July brings me personally around the sun again. I am honored to celebrate my birthday with so many others this month! But more than cake and compliments, I become extremely reflective in this season. I take inventory of all that I had endured in the year prior and set goals for the year ahead. I am mature enough to realize that I have made some failures and seen some challenges more than once. At one time in my life, I saw this as a place of discouragement. But as I mature, I thank God for every chance to try again. My successes have been HUGE in the past year, but if all I am is pats on the back and braggadocio over what I have done, I grow complacent in the last win.
The greatest measure of success a man can achieve is in his ability to assess his failures and consistently work on them until he has rearranged them into lessons for others. In this vein, I am so glad to not have only grown tall; rather, I have great joy in the ability to see who I was not and know beyond the shadow of doubt who I am. I take pleasure in the flaws, knowing that I am empowered to make them lesson plans for others. I am a consistent lesson plan in the lives of others, who will need my experiences and compassionate grace.
As I prepare to celebrate my special day with so many of my family and friends, I look to the heat of the sun on my face as my head is unbowed. I lavish honor and love on those who have been patient with my flaws. I smile a wide smile at the young man that was. And I fling flawless dreads at a past that could not defeat me. I grew up!