Many years ago, when we started our wilderness journey, our daughters, Ida and Fanny, were quite young. Their childhood and puberty years were spent in homelessness and thus shaped who they are. This wasn’t a bad thing, for the trials they endured have prepared them for their destinies. However, even though their trials were decidedly unique for their ages, there was one aspect they shared with every child, and that is the need to grow up into spiritual adulthood.
The Three Stages of Spiritual Growth
In our 3 Stages of Spiritual Growth we lay out how we start in Egypt, journey through the wilderness and end up in the Promised Land. We see this physical model daily in our start as a baby then growth through childhood and puberty to arrive as an adult. For the first 12-13 years of life, children are typically under strict parental care (trustees, guardians and administrators). This time in a child’s life is very much like Egypt. In this respect, the child really doesn’t differ from a slave in that they must do what the parent tells them to lest they experience negative consequences.
When the child reaches puberty, they move into a hopefully short, new phase. This phase leads them to connect with people other than their parents, like friends and peers, etc. In this phase, the child separates from their parents and begins making life-altering decisions without the parent’s input or consent.
If we were to see the childhood phase like clay where the parents mold the child, this new phase is more like hardening. This is where enough has been deposited into the child and they must harden in that position. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily
Train up a child
If the parents properly taught the child well, then the hardening defines how they will be as an adult. “Train up a child in the way he should go [and in keeping with his individual gift or bent], and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 However if there is debris in the clay the child will become an adult with flaws. It is those flaws God has to correct in order for any person to reach full spiritual adulthood.
Puberty is like the wilderness
The phase of puberty is most like the wilderness, for it is a time of great difficulty and trial for the child who is becoming an adult. It should not be long, but it will be difficult as the child must learn to make their own decisions and accept the consequences. Too often, however, parents, teachers, and society writ large try to circumvent or prevent this phase entirely. They say this is love, but their actions actually block the natural process of growth. Tremendous damage is done to the maturing child in this way.
Look around and you will see the seething anger, rage and bitterness that results when growth into spiritual adulthood is not completed.
If the child progresses through puberty (the wilderness) properly, then they will arrive at spiritual adulthood (the Promised Land) eventually. The Promised Land is where the grown adult will remain for the rest of their days therefore, it is essential to get there at the proper time of life. Part of the problem is that becoming a physical adult is merely a matter of time, but to grow into spiritual adulthood takes time, decisions and conscious effort by the individual. Maturity is never guaranteed.
A veil came between us
Since 2007 our family has been in a wilderness growing into spiritual adults. What we didn’t realize however was that Ida and Fanny were also going through the wilderness we call puberty. This process has been doubly difficult for them since they could not physically separate from us during this period. Four years ago, God moved our family into a small motel room where all of our privacy was removed. This has made everything more stressful. Although physical adulthood for our daughters occurred naturally, spiritual adulthood has been difficult to navigate; especially for Fanny.
During our time here, we noticed a change. The initial days of hectic emotions stemming from our recent bout with homelessness eventually passed. Then gradually, without warning, we began separating from Ida and Fanny emotionally. This was subtle and quiet, and none of us really understood what was happening. A veil came between us and we no longer were functioning with the closeness we had when we were wandering. Each of us, in our own way, was frustrated by the situation, but none of us knew what was happening; or why. There was something, however, going on beneath the surface.
Yet only 10 feet apart
It was in this time of separation, even though we live 10 feet from each other, that God was hardening Ida and Fanny into adults. In this place, what had been deposited into them earlier was being anchored deep into their souls. Ida, then Fanny however, had to, of their own volition, choose what they wanted to believe. Their faith had to become their own. They were maturing into spiritual adulthood.
The necessity of individuation
When we mature, we need to be free to choose who we are to be without the input of any other person, especially a parent. What makes this difficult is we are often more like one parent so when we choose like them because we are so similar we don’t feel like we are making our choice freely. Therefore, physical separation from a parent is key for growth. When we are apart from a parent, we can then make the same choice but not feel like we are living under their shadow.
Even though we may be very similar to our parents, we must learn to individuate or become an adult on our own; irrespective of them.
This principle of individuation in spiritual adulthood is critical. If we miss this important step, we’ll never be spiritual adults. We will forever be a slave to our parents, trustees, guardians and administrators. This is neither healthy nor wise. To properly individuate we must learn to make our own choices and accept the consequences without the input of a parent or guardian.
Standing your ground
But something else is required to bring the individuation process out into the open. One can, even in an enclosed space, learn to individuate and become separate from a parent, but if we cannot stand up to that parent we will remain spiritual children. This means, at some point, the child has to act in a very adult manner and fight for who they are. No one else can or will fight for them. This is something they must learn to do on their own.
Unless the child can fight for who they are, they will never find the respect and honor they need.
This is a key for individuation and spiritual adulthood. When we can respect and honor ourselves, others will also respect and honor us. Unfortunately, many parents cannot understand this battle and think their offspring is simply being rebellious. It is not rebellion but the natural action of growth that must happen. The battle for adulthood is one conflict that is essential for growth. Even God expects us to stand firm in who He made us to be. We need to make decisions, accept the consequences, and fight for spiritual adulthood.
A very adult response
On Monday a conflict arose between Fanny and Wanda, but instead of backing down as she had in the past, Fanny held her ground. She was not rude or angry, but very firm with Wanda; a very adult response. Wanda was flummoxed. The next day we discussed the conflict. For the first time, all of us, as mature spiritual adults, talked with no negative emotions carrying us away and disturbing our peace. Peace was actually gained because the gap between Wanda and her daughter was exposed, then bridged and healed. Wanda, with humility, accepted her daughter as a spiritual adult. They were fully reconciled, and a new relationship was formed. These two were now no longer mother/daughter but equal sisters; mature spiritual adults who love Jesus.
Fanny had won the respect and honor of her mother by simply being the adult she had become without our input.
Family at last
Individuation and spiritual adulthood are the natural products of going through a wilderness experience. During this time, as we are separated from all that is familiar, we mature and learn to become the adults God is calling us to be. When many people go through this experience and become spiritual adults, they can then connect and be one in spirit. We become a living group of spiritually mature people committed to Jesus in Bridal intimacy. We connect first to our Bridegroom, then to each other in union and communion.
This is church; one family connected in mature communion. It is the Promised Land; our home, the place where we belong.
Homer and Wanda