Grown-up babies

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Striving to continue “growing up” emotionally

Some months ago I read Peter Scazzero’s book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, and really liked a lot of it. It was personally nourishing and challenging. Toward the end, Scazzero broaches an issue that we all have thought about at one time or another: Can someone be mature in years, perhaps even chronologically 40- or 50-something, and still be an emotional infant, child or adolescent? When you think, “Don’t be such a baby,” are you always focusing on an infant? Or sometimes are you thinking about yourself?

Scazzero takes a couple of pages to describe the difference between emotional adults and those who have not yet arrived there. He identifies and then describes three phases of immaturity. While I will not list all of his observations, here are some:

  • Emotional Infants look for others to take care of them; are driven by the need for instant gratification; use others as objects to meet their needs.
  • Emotional Children are happy and content if they get what they want; unravel quickly from stress and disappointments; are easily hurt; complain, withdraw, manipulate, take revenge and become sarcastic when they don’t get their way; interpret disagreements as personal offenses; have great difficulty discussing their needs and wants in a calm, mature, loving way.
  • Emotional Adolescents tend to be defensive; are threatened and alarmed by criticism; deal with conflict poorly, often blaming, appeasing, pouting or ignoring; become preoccupied with themselves; are critical and judgmental.

Wow! How is it, I wondered, that Scazzero knows all this stuff? Why is it that these descriptors are so understandable to me—and I’m 60-something? I’m pretty sure I remember pouting for a while as I read. And then I tried to think who it is, other than me, that fits the categories and misbehaved accordingly.

So then, how do Emotional Adults (EA) behave? First, Scazzero suggests they “are able to ask for what they need, want or prefer clearly, directly and honestly.” Is it possible to do that when the goal is to be a humble servant who thinks of others ahead of oneself? Second, EAs “recognize, manage and take responsibility for their own thoughts and feelings.” That sounds good and right except that often we prefer to assign to someone else the reason for what we feel, especially if the feeling is inappropriate.

Third, EAs “can, when under stress, state their own beliefs and values without becoming adversarial.” Man, that is tough. Especially, it seems to me, when we Christians believe that we pretty much have the right beliefs all the time. Fourth, EAs “have the capacity to resolve conflict maturely and negotiate solutions that consider the perspectives of others.” Win-win right? And one more from the list: EAs “give people room to make mistakes and not be perfect.” That sounds to me like an exhortation in the direction of grace and forbearance.

At our National Leadership Summit a few months ago I asked those present to identify barriers that we need to address so that we can more effectively pursue and achieve the “oneness” which we desire as a national conference. Among the list was “intolerance/lack of grace.” Apparently there are times when we are not as kind to one another as we should be. It strikes me that we can always keep “growing up” emotionally.

When my attitudes and actions are less than emotionally mature I want to own them, repent of them and be first in line to ask the indwelling spirit of Christ to help me keep growing up. Anybody care to join me?

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