To Be and To Become
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:12–13
Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.
Our history with other people is interesting. Without knowing it, we carry the baggage of the years into our interactions. We easily see this in our closest relationships. With spouses or children or parents, what we did yesterday, even if it is not held against us, is a part of our identity. So if I lied yesterday, even if I apologized and forgiven, that person I lied to will often carry the emotional baggage of that with them into today. We see this sort of thing accentuated with people who have encountered trauma of all kinds. If you got into a bad car accident, the next time you have to drive somewhere you struggle to get in. If someone has rifled through your home, you feel betrayed and odd in your own space. If someone you trusted turns out to be abusive, it is very difficult to accept how they exercised their authority over you in the past and it is hard to trust other authorities. I think this makes sense. On a less negative side, it is always interesting when my family gets together because I am tempted (unconsciously, mind you) to revert to my more immature habits of my youth, the manner I had around my family growing up.
The point of the matter is that we humans are more complex than we usually give credit to, and we usually expect more of others than we really ought. This is most clearly seen in child-rearing. My ideal would be to have high standards in education for children, and I think all curriculum has lower standards than what most children could do, but I know that I am still tempted to expect a higher emotional maturity of my girls than perhaps they are able to fulfill (as 5 and 3 year olds). I have to take care in how I lead them along to maturity and adulthood even if I were to set high academic standards. And even in the academic standards, each of my children is going to master the disciplines differently and might struggle with various things to the point of where I might need to adjust.
This leads us to realize that we must ask: What are our relationships for? In our world of pragmatism, even in the church, we treat relationships self-servingly (is this person, this relationship all that I want it to be?). Of course, raising children is a fine example. Paul Tripp chastised parents for using their children to serve their own ends like asking them to get their phone merely because they’re too lazy to get up and get it themselves. But in relationships in public, we are often self-conscious about protecting our dignity and self, and our expectations of others are wooden. We easily hold everyone to a standard as though everyone should have been born there on day one. My counseling professor rightly reminded us that each of us is born in different families and some are healthier which means you might reach adulthood at a higher level of maturity and some are born into more broken situations and thus may have a lower level of maturity initially as an adult. What do we do with such variance in the church? We first have to know ourselves. When we treat others self-servingly, it is often an indication that we don’t know who we are and we don’t know our own depravity, our own struggles and weaknesses. Second, as we come to know ourselves, we cannot remain in our heads: we also must consider how we can seek to build everyone up in the church to love and good works. We are iron sharpening iron. When we don’t consider others, we often use our iron to injure. Yes, in love, we want others to grow and change, but of course, this doesn’t happen overnight. As an 18 year old, I was amazed at how much life was ahead of me, what in the world was there to learn? I had already arrived, or so I thought. Of course, the answer isn’t simply academic, it is much more relational. And even as a 30-something-year-old man, I can be quite dense. I still have a long ways to go, and I know that I will never fully make it. So why do we expect so much so quickly from our kids, our neighbors?
So the fact of the matter is that we can always use a little more patience in our relationships. I am not who I once was, and I am slowly becoming more mature. And we are patient because our goal is not perfection now but slow and steady growth into the image of Christ, not ourselves. The wonderful thing is that as we pray and live life with one another, we don’t always know how we are sharpening one another. We don’t usually know the half of what someone needs! But through our faithfulness and God’s providence and the shaping of his Spirit, we grow in the Lord. And so even I am less annoying at my family gatherings and perhaps your parenting is a little more patient and your neighboring a little more un-self-preferential, more focused on the person in front of you. And ultimately, we see the self-sacrificing love of God work through our humble work as we anticipate the joys of heaven and the transformation of all things where we will know and be known truly as we are. In the end: in love seek to sharpen one another and be patient with each other. In this way we’ll continue to gather together all the more as you see the day drawing near.