Some years ago, I was talking to a therapist about some issues I was having at the time with a family member of mine. The problem was that this individual and I were going back and forth fighting over a matter that loosely affected both of us. We had different viewpoints which were each shaded by our own biases. It was an emotionally charged situation that was painful and flat-out sucked no matter how you look at it. Yet, we went round and round (in a public domain) about what was the “real matter” at hand—convinced that we each understood it fully, and the other was obviously blinded in complete ignorance. In hindsight, it was a dumb argument that had absolutely no value nor any pull on the situation. What was done was done; and no amount of fighting, regardless who was right or wrong, would change it. We were simply both hurting and begging to be heard; and as a result caused one another further pain in refusing to listen to the other.
I can remember telling the therapist about how absurd the other person’s argument was—certain that he would agree with me on my flawless logic. Complaining about the other, I was blind to how much I was continuing to make it worse. In my overwhelming arrogance, I asked him how I could better convince my family member of their blatantly wrong stance. The therapist, who had been raised Roman Catholic but was now a devout Tibetan Buddhist, said to me: “What if it’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong?” Hmmm. He must have missed something in my story, I thought to myself. Before I could respond with more foolishness, he continued: “Instead of trying to dismantle the other person’s argument—thus proving your superiority, what if you approach it differently?” Ok… And with sage wisdom he said to me: “Some people, despite their age, are immature in their faith. They may be 40, 50, 60 years old, but only have the faith of an infant. It sounds like this person has a fragile, infantile faith. Instead of tearing them down, you need to meet them where they’re at—saying things and offering responses they simply can’t argue with, like ‘I believe God is love.’ There’s no way they can reasonably argue with that belief.” As we continued to talk that day, my eyes were opened to a new perspective I had not considered: immaturity of faith. Little did I realize until months and years later, the ‘advice’ given to me was as much if not more so for me personally, in my own fragile toddler faith, as it was intended to be a lens for me see anyone else I encountered. Perhaps I was the one acting like a #@&!*$^ child and in need of growing up.
I believe there’s some value for us to take away on this approach when faced with awkward, difficult, jaw-dropping situations—considering not only the faith age demonstrated by the other, but also our own immaturity. Instead of arguing until we’re blue in the face and letting something trivial create an irreparable chasm between us, what if we stopped to consider the root of where certain comments and actions stem from within the other? Are their words and/or actions demonstrating one who is mature in faith or one who is still quite adolescent in their trust? With that, is how I’m responding speak towards growth or stagnation in my own faith? It may not completely diffuse the situation, but seeing the other for the child they are—unable to think and act in bigger ways, in need of support and guidance—offers oneself perspective that focuses on the deeper issue. The more and more we utilize this lens, how we approach conflict changes. One whose faith is infantile cannot be argued with at a mature level anymore than a parent can talk to a toddler as he or she would talk to another adult.
That being said, to look upon and see one for the child they are regarding their faith is not about lifting oneself up at the judgment or debasement of others. While taking another’s immaturity into consideration, to see someone as a child brings with it another deeply Christian implication—remembering each person’s identity as a child of God. Regardless our age—young or old, no matter our maturity of faith—more or less, every one of us remains a beloved child of God for whom Christ died and through his resurrection we receive new life. Though we proclaim this truth in the church time and time again, it can be so difficult to acknowledge and act upon it in the midst of opposing opinions, heated words, and painful actions. Nevertheless, God’s love for and baptismal adoption of us as daughters and sons is a reality unalterable by us and our actions. This, perhaps, is the greater and yet more challenging task. To love, respect, and live together with those of immature faith while not writing them off as such but rather moving in closer and affirming them as a fellow child of God is what, I believe, Jesus models in his ministry and calls us his disciples to practice as well. Were not the Pharisees who struggled with and sought to entrap Jesus, immature in their faith?
We’re being told that right now the nation, if not the world, is as fragmented and polarized as it’s been for 50+ years. It doesn’t take much looking around to see the truth of this claim. It seems far easier for us to cast Martin Luther’s famous “anti-Christ” label onto others than it is to see even a shred of God’s image in them. We all are children—in our words and actions, but also in our belonging to God. What if we were to try on a new lens in our interactions with one another: seeing each other for the children we are—immature and infantile, cleansed and claimed, loved and living together as one in Christ. Each of us matures in our faith at different rates, just as our physical, mental, and emotional maturity is not uniform. When we take in consideration the maturity, or lack thereof, of another’s faith, our perspective changes. Words and actions fall to the wayside as compassion reaches out to meet the other where they are and journey together towards spiritual maturation. We are children in need of love, care, and patience. Those whom we encounter and struggle with are children in need of the same responses. See me, the child, immature in my faith as I am—in need of continual growth, and yet claimed by God; and with the help of the Holy Spirit I will see you, sisters and brothers, for the children you are as well.