When I Was a Child
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 1 Corinthians 13:11
On the surface, this passage from first Corinthians seems to have little to do with love. It also seems to contradict Jesus’ teachings about our needing to become like little children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Childish love, however, is 100% conditional, as any parent of a 2-year-old knows. As long as the child is receiving everything he or she wants, in the way he or she wants it, and at the time he or she wants it, love is given freely and abundantly. At the first sign of not meeting what the child thinks he or she needs at any given moment, however, that loving bundle of joy can turn into a hateful, selfish demon who loathes your very being. There is an enormous difference between childish love and adult love (although some adults barely grow beyond a childish understanding of what love is and is not). Until we understand that love is an action we must either initiate or participate in, love will remain only an emotion that will come and go like waves crashing on the shore. Here is one way to understand Paul’s line above: If we think and speak with childish reasoning, our thoughts will not be mature. As we learn and grow, our understanding of love should deepen. Thus, as we reach adulthood we should put away our childish understanding of love as being conditional.
On the other hand, we have Jesus saying things like, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) Jesus is talking about certain traits of children many of us feel obligated to lose as we become adults. Specifically, he refers to a loss of humility. Many of us give ourselves credit for being far wiser than we actually are. When we believe we know as much as is worth knowing about life and love, we lose our curiosity, our ability to continue learning, and our ability to love freely and trust completely. We retain the narcissism and other self-centered traits of childhood and become immature adults. In Paul’s words, we do not put away our childish ways. Rather, we put away the very characteristics of childlike love that prepare us for entry into the kingdom of heaven.
The resolution for this paradox of becoming like a child, but also putting an end to childish things, seems to be in retaining key elements of childhood innocence and tempering them with the insight and perspective of adulthood. That combination will lead us to a deeper and more complete experience of love.
Let us make 2016 the year of love, as love was meant to be.