Have you ever watched a baby interacting with her world, and wondered what was going on in that little brain of hers?
The earliest months and years with a child have their own kind of sweetness — but also frustration. Much of it has to do with miscues in the relationship. She wants or needs something, but cannot tell you in words; you must learn to read her signals, and read them rightly. Eventually, she begins to babble and speak, first in single words, and in time, full sentences. And for all the delight that comes with the first time she says “Mama” or “Dada,” once you’re able to have a real conversation with your child, you don’t want to regress to monosyllables (which is why some parents get so frustrated with their teens).
“When I was a child,” Paul writes, “I used to speak like a child, reason like a child, think like a child. But now that I have become a man, I’ve put an end to childish things” (1 Cor 13:11, CEB). I’m not sure I like that word “childish”: here, I actually prefer the NIV’s more neutral “the ways of childhood,” because in an adult-centered world, “childishness” has a pejorative ring to it. True, Paul is talking about spiritual gifts as being inferior to love, but they’re not bad — just incomplete, belonging to today but ultimately not tomorrow.
There are things appropriate to childhood. As my wife and I would say, every age and stage with our children had its own charm. But that’s not to say we’d want to go backwards. We like the relationship we have with our adult children.
That’s the point: “when the perfect comes” (vs. 10), in the sense of something that’s reached completion or maturity, why go backwards? The goal is to grow up, not to get stuck in childhood.
And love, Paul seems to suggest, is what grown-ups should do.