The boy grew up: reflections on turning the page on another year

The other day we celebrated our grandson’s first birthday. He and I celebrated by jumping up and down quite energetically. That’s a lot of fun when you are one and someone else is doing most of the jumping and throwing you in the air: it’s a lot tougher when you’re almost 60 and you’re doing most of the hard work!

I doubt that anyone would have let me jump up and down with him a year ago. He seemed so tiny and fragile: I’d have worried that his head might have fallen off. But he’s grown sturdy and strong. Among other things, he loves blueberries and has started to sing. That’s what happens: babies grow up.

It happened to Jesus.

I’ve often thought about Luke’s short summary of Jesus’ early years (2:52):

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man.

As my wife pointed out to me, there is a very similar statement about Samuel in the Old Testament:

Now the young man Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favour with the Lord and also with man.

It’s what happens.

Luke’s picture is a description of healthy development that is intellectual and emotional (he grew in wisdom), physical (stature), spiritual (favour with God), and relational (favour with others). While it contains some fascinating theological conundrums, it’s also a useful framework to help us take stock of our lives as we move into a new year.

Interestingly, one or two resources I’ve seen in the past few months point out the importance of paying attention to each of these areas of our lives as part of self-care and resilience: for example, Tony Horsfall shared some thoughts based on Debbie Hawker’s SPECS concept (Spiritual, physical, emotional, cognitive, and social) in a series of articles on his Facebook page a few months ago.

So whether you are a resolution-type of person, more inclined to the practice of a rule of life, or would just like to conduct an audit or try to identify a few goals, take a moment or two to reflect on these areas of your life.

Intellectual and emotional (Jesus grew in wisdom)

I read the other day about a former colleague who had read almost 200 books in 2018: hats off to him! I hope he manages to recall most of what he has read! I suspect that’s out of the league in which most of us operate, but what steps should we be taking to grow (and continue to grow) intellectually? Maybe it’s reading, maybe it’s audiobooks or podcasts (what about a course via iTunesU). One of the problems of the information era in which we find ourselves is that there is so much information and the trivial and ephemeral can easily be the enemy of what is more substantive.

And in a world of burgeoning anxiety and depression we hardly need reminding about our emotional health. Issues such as these can be stubborn and dangerous and require specialist help. I’m not sure that the taboos have entirely gone away.

More generally, however, what place do we need to give to self-compassion (an antidote to perfectionism?), to gratitude (an antidote to cynicism and discontentment), and to laughter ?

Physical (Jesus grew in stature)

Unless we’re health fanatics or highly trained professional athletes, a lot of us have probably gained a pound or two over the past couple of weeks. Aside from the urge to get rid of these (Google searches for ‘diet’ surge by 82% on January 1), what do you need to be doing about what you consume, the amount of rest you get and an exercise regime that suits your age and current health condition? Does your lifestyle allow you to give adequate attention to each of these areas?

Spiritual (Jesus grew in favour with God)

Aside from the fascinating theological issue of Jesus’ dynamic and changing relationship with his Father, here’s a reminder of the importance of spiritual growth and formation. What part will Scripture play in your life in 2019? How will you cultivate prayer? Is there space for other spiritual practices, like silence or fasting? What part will other believers play in helping you to grow? In this regard it might be worth checking out Gordon MacDonald’s classification of five types of people who affect our spiritual passion.

Social (Jesus grew in favour with others)

For introverts who’ve just about managed to get through the Christmas season with its parties and crowds, this might seem like an area to leave until you’ve finished hibernation. Extraverts, meantime, have been having a blast! But for all of us it’s worth taking an audit of our relationships: family, colleagues, neighbours, students, congregations and so on.

Over to you!

As I already suggested, you might like to use these headings to structure some goals for the new year. Or you might like to keep the five areas a bit more generally in mind, using them, for example to regularly review your life, ensuring that you are growing in a balanced way (if you read 200 books in 2018, you might not do quite so well in the social area!).

Feel free to post a comment if you’ve found this useful or if you’ve been able to use the idea to help you as you look ahead to 2019.

The Christmas Child and the threshold of a new year

Little is told us in the gospels about the boyhood and young adulthood of Jesus. Aside from the escape to Egypt and the Temple incident (at age 12), there is almost total silence on the part of the four evangelists. Only Luke helps us with his comment on Jesus’ submission to his parents (Luke 2:51) and his summary of how Jesus grew ‘in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man.’

  • Wisdom
  • Stature
  • Favour with God
  • Favour with man

Although he was and never ceased to be God, and although at 12 the Temple theologians were astounded at his understanding, Jesus grew in wisdom. And he grew in stature. This was a normal child with things to experience and wisdom to gain. He grew taller and stronger as he got older.

He also grew in favour with God. As the Word, the eternal Son exists in an eternal relationship of love with the Father; as a growing child, the way he lived in such a way that he grew in favour with God. Eventually the Father would pronounce that this was his Son and he was well pleased in him.

And he grew in favour with men.

Part of the mystery of the incarnation is that when God took on humanity, he did so without shortcuts. So much so that the anonymous writer of the Hebrew letter said that ‘although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.’

Extraordinary.

There is a uniqueness and a deep theological mystery in all of this.

At the same time, I think Luke’s description of how Jesus grew and matured can help us with a template for planning our own growth and development as we stand at the threshold of another new year. As Jesus grew intellectually, physically, spiritually and socially, what about us?

Why not consider what goals you might set to encourage your development in each of these four areas for 2013?

  1. Intellectual – are there books to read (e.g. are there twelve significant books you should read over the next twelve months?), is there a Bible reading programme to follow, a Bible book or doctrine to grapple with, a new language to learn, an evening class to enroll in?
  2. Physical – growth may be the wrong word for some of us who are of a certain age: negative growth might be a better plan, but what should we do to get/stay fit and healthy?
  3. Spiritual – what do you need to do to grow in favour with God? It’s not that we need to struggle for his acceptance, but it is possible to live in a way that brings him joy and to serve in a way that wins his approval. Are there healthy, godly disciplines to cultivate?
  4. Social – are there friendships to be cultivated, new ways of encouragement to be developed, perhaps even new ministries to be started?

Why not get a journal (one of my daughters bought me a new one for Christmas) and use the first few pages to work through these areas?