The Way of Weaning
In the first post of this series, we considered the New Testament’s distinction between infant and mature Christianity, spiritual milk compared to spiritual meat. In its most simplified form, milk is marked by confession whereas meat is marked by communion. Infants in Christ focus on believing and behaving right and mature Christians focus on relating to Jesus and others well. To try to get one without the other leads to any number of dangers. You must know information about your wife to relate to her in healthy, satisfying ways. Claiming relationship without any understanding of the other person is abstract emotionalism. It’s like the teenager who is in love with love itself—chasing the feeling rather than sharing intimacy with a particular person. At the same time, understanding divorced from relationship leads to cold hearts and an increasingly rigid, anxious experience of others. Perpetual milk-drinkers see the gray world God has made as purely black and white. They are unable to change and, worst of all, struggle profoundly to give and receive love. This is the person who confesses with their mouth “Jesus is Lord!” and believes in their heart that he is disappointed in them. You may find the chart below helpful in understanding the milk-driven Christian:
- Problem to address – What I do (behavior)
- Plan for addressing it – Competence
- Posture in the Plan – Willfulness
- Picture of the Process – The Brick Layer
When someone first comes to Jesus, they must learn new information and rhythms of life. They must learn the scriptures, learn to pray, learn what it means to be a healthy participant in the life of the church. Typically, the sins repented of initially revolve around behavior. I repent of sleeping with my boyfriend…of looking at pornography…of drinking and lying and being cruel etc. These first years of the Christian life are just as foundational and important as the first years of biological life. Children must learn the ABCs, basic addition, the family rules, and so on. The way the infant in Christ achieves this is through diligent, disciplined work. Like a brick layer, there is work to be done and you are the one to do it. You may rest once it’s finished.
Spiritual milk is a gift from God, repeatedly affirmed as good. It is a foundational, essential component of our life and growth in Christ. The only problem with spiritual milk is becoming so addicted to it that we never include more nourishing foods into our diets. It’s one thing for a one year old to take a bottle before bed. It’s quite another for a twenty year old.
Let the Weaning Begin
The modern evangelical church is, in many respects, a world class elementary school. We excel at teaching the scriptures and changing behaviors. At some point in the life of every Christian, elementary school lessons seem to stop working. We find our lack of faith disturbing. We see old patterns of sin re-emerge in our lives. Perhaps new addictions are formed or we simply find ourselves weighed down and exhausted by the “light burden” of Jesus. When this collapse comes, as it inevitably will, the only option available to most of us is to go back and try harder. Get in an accountability group. Memorize more scripture. Install covenant eyes on your computer. Double down and get back to work, young man. Sometimes, though, the collapse is much more traumatic.
The loss of a child leaves a parent deeply distrusting of God’s goodness. A neglected, exhausted wife leaves her husband and her faith. Tragedy strikes, unexpected emotions come, and we enter what many have named the dark night of the soul. It is in these places of apparent abandonment and despair that the still small voice of Jesus is inviting us into something far greater than a confession of faith. After all those years of study and work, we are now given the opportunity to discover how true all that information truly is. Like wise parents, older Christians need the wisdom to discern what kind of “dark night” the younger Christian is experiencing. Long standing, hidden sin can certainly result in feelings of distance in one’s relationship with God. Perhaps the young Christian was never nurtured on the pure milk of God’s word. Perhaps, though, this dark night is one of the ways God is mysteriously wooing the Christian into a deeper intimacy with himself.
Hebrews tells us that Jesus learned obedience through suffering. John’s Gospel reminds us that the Spirit is like the wind, going wherever it wants. These two biblical realities force us to consider times of deep suffering as potential periods of Spirit-led transformation. This is not to say that God kills children to teach parents a lesson. It is, however, to say that the Spirit is present in all of life’s suffering and his posture is always one of invitation. Just as the transition from adolescents to adulthood is often marked by confusion, heartache, and doubt, the transition from milk-drinking to meat-eating Christianity is rarely easy.
God seems to find night time to be the best time to wean his children from their bottles. It is in the darkness that our pain, our losses, and our doubt are exposed. It is in the darkness that our prayers become real and honest. It is in the darkness that God so often becomes for each of us a Father. If you find yourself in a time of doubt, when all the familiar tricks fail to get you back on fire for Jesus, know you are in good company. The weaning is necessary and so, in that sense, there is goodness even in the dark. In the next post, we will consider what lies beyond this time of transition. For now, consider making this dark night of the soul prayer your own:
O Lord, God of my salvation, I cry out to you by day. I come to you at night. Now hear my prayer; listen to my cry. For my life is full of troubles, and death* draws near… I am forgotten, cut off from your care. 6 You have thrown me into the lowest pit, into the darkest depths. Your anger weighs me down; with wave after wave you have engulfed me…My eyes are blinded by my tears. Each day I beg for your help, O Lord; I lift my hands to you for mercy… O Lord, why do you reject me? Why do you turn your face from me?… You have taken away my companions and loved ones. Darkness is my closest friend.