what's inside the bunny?

 

chocolate-bunny

** note: this is part of the september synchroblog.  i really like synchroblogs because a variety of voices write on the same topic at the same time.  the intentional focus provides a great platform for challenge & diversity of perspectives.  check out all of the  other participants’ links below!

this month’s topic:  spiritual maturity.

when i head this was september’s topic, the very first thought that randomly popped into my mind was a chocolate easter bunny.   i could picture him (or her?) on the shelf at target in that pretty pink and green box, you know those cute ones with the crystallized sugar eyes that you get at easter time?  over the years (and with all these kids we have eaten our share of them!) i have discovered something about those chocolate bunnies:  most of them are hollow inside.  they  look tantalizing, perfectly molded & smooth, they make me think that they will be a fantabulous treat, but when i bite into it, i am often left disappointed.  there’s just not much to them.  sure, the chocolate’s nice & gorging at easter is always fun, but the bottom line for me when it comes to these bunnies has always been “what you see is not really what you get.”

i know it’s a fairly horrible analogy, but i couldn’t seem to shake it when i was thinking of “spiritual maturity.”   there are outside characteristics that we associate with spiritual maturity that get all kinds of traction in church circles, but i am not sure that they really have the substance that reflect what Jesus really meant when it came to spiritual transformation & growth.  the things that have been mostly connected to “spiritual maturity” throughout my years of christian living have been along the lines of:

bible knowledge & ability to articulate scripture (probably the one that gets associated with spiritual maturity the most.  throw in some seminary training & you’re really locked in)

age (the older you are & the longer you’ve been around,  the more spiritual cred you get)

supposed stability in job & life & finances (my hunch this is a bigger one than we might like to think)

some form of leadership that is somehow visible (extra bonus maturity for those with titles & specific roles)

lots of God-focused, spiritual sounding words

doing, doing, doing a myriad of christian-y things

i know i am preaching to the choir here, but i do think for many people these are still used to define what counts as “godly” and “spiritually mature.”   i am not dismissing all of these in one fell swoop, but i do think these measures are utterly inconsistent with what Jesus valued.  Jesus consistently spoke of radical love, compassion, sacrifice, humility, gentleness, a spirit of justice & mercy, and a purity of heart that had nothing to do with “looking good on the outside” or being “put together.” sadly to me, because the outside seems to work for so many, the system continues to perpetuate some of these “spiritually mature” things as more valid and valuable than what is on the inside or maybe not seen by others in a tangible, supposedly-good-and-godly way.   over the years, i have bitten into “christian chocolate” that was laden with characteristics on this list, what many would call the perfect spiritually mature package, but unfortunately that was about all it was-a package.  the inside, the part that was supposed to be a reflection of Jesus’ heart for people & relationship & love, rang hollow.

the story of the sinful woman who bursts into simon the pharisee’s house in luke 7 is one of my favorite because it is a vivid picture of the contrast between what the world values & what Jesus values when it comes to spiritual things.  simon, the pharisee, had all of the characteristics that we’d associate with someone who was ‘spiritually mature.’  right knowledge, right behavior, right social status, right thinking.  the outside of his cup was spit-spot clean.   the sinful woman, on the other hand, is the polar opposite.  probably no real scripture knowledge, wrong behavior, wrong social status, wrong pretty-much-everything.  the outside of her cup was dirty & damaged, a true-blue  mess.  but Jesus cuts to the chase here, to what was on the inside, the part that no one would ever see & deem as spiritually mature in any way shape or form. he tells simon the pharisee:  hey, take note, this woman is the one who truly gets it.  this is what i am talking about. her spirit of humility & devotion & norm-breaking is something worth reflecting on.

what the world sees & what God sees are two different things.  outside things like success, stability, knowledge & ability are not the things that Jesus points us to over and over again. in fact, he rails against them.   what does matter is spiritual poverty, humility,  pure hearts, compassion & mercy, peace-making, sacrificial love.  these things, he says in the sermon on the mount, are a reflection of his spirit, his ways.   i believe they should be part of any conversation related to spiritual maturity.   i have been around healing & recovery ministry for a long time and one of the most powerful observations i have made is that what looks like weakness to the world (or even the church) is actually strength in God’s eyes.  our brokenness & authenticity & recognition of our need for God & each other is actually the big idea of Love.  and what we’ve been taught is superior-supposed right behavior & knowledge & put-together-ness & stability-is actually a hollow counterfeit.  when the rubber meets the road, and it always does, true spiritual maturity will be marked by a willingness to sacrifice our pride, our ego, the things that get us strokes, for the better thing–a poured out, power-diffused life that is marked with honesty & humility & pain & sacrifice. those are the things that marked Jesus’ short time here on earth.

i think if i was summing spiritual maturity i’d say it’s “moving toward a more and more undivided life.”  that what’s on the inside is on the outside.  it’s giving up comfort & control. it’s living in the tension of Jesus ways & ours ways & asking help to tilt more toward his.  it’s:

loving when we don’t want to

an honest awareness of our weaknesses & our strengths

a willingness to wrestle with deep questions about God & life

staying in & doing hard things relationally

the ability to give & receive mercy and grace

sacrificing comfort, stuff, ease, ego, and power for the sake of others

i feel like i am constantly unlearning so many of the things that are so deeply engrained in me about church & life.  bible knowledge is not the end-all and the be-all.  doing lots of great and exciting stuff for God isn’t necessary.  being known for being squared away isn’t necessary.   education, money, stability isn’t necessary.    Jesus had none of the things & he said to be like him.  i really believe that when it’s all said & done it’s about our hearts seeking God’s crazy-contrary-to-the-world ways. i am around wonderful people all the time who don’t really know the bible all that much, who look to many as some of the most “spiritually immature” people when it comes to the laundry list of what is often measured as ‘mature’,  but are probably some of the most spiritually astute friends i have ever had because they are willing to admit their weakness & not pretend.  they  love when others won’t.  they help when others don’t.  they show up in others’ lives and never ever expect that anyone will notice or give them one bit of praise for it.   they give generously (in ways far beyond money) but no one ever knows.  they engage in conflict instead of slink away.  they do all kinds of rich, amazing things that actually never get noticed because they are covert, simple, under the radar & have absolutely nothing to do with “church leadership.”   on the outside, actually, they probably look like the bunnies tossed into clearance basket two weeks after easter or like the sinful woman making a spectacle of herself.  but on the inside, oh my oh my is something solid, true, deep, and healthier and more mature than anyone would probably ever expect.

yeah, spiritual maturity seems to have something to do with what’s inside the bunny.

* * * * *

other synchrobloggers writing on this topic:

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

33 Comments

  • Very true, and ties in with what Phil Wyman said.

    Those who are truly spiritually mature are those who have learned how to be like little children.

    Reply
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  • Spot on. And, it would be easy to show the biblical foundation for each bulletpoint of your list of the evidences of spiritual maturity. Keep unlearning the world’s thoughts and keep learning God’s ways as your grow in intimacy with Him!

    Reply
  • Great post! This is an excellent description of spiritual maturity and an excellent contrast with the outward appearances (the shell) that we often mistake for spiritual maturity.

    -Alan

    Reply
  • hehehe … Kathy, when I saw the title of your post, I thought, “Hah! There’s nothing inside the bunny. It’s a sham. Or there’s some horrible icky sugary goo that I hate and makes me feel sick. Either way, bunnies are always a big fake … they look good on the outside, but what a disappointment they always are.” So I could not figure out what you were going to write about … and as always … you rocked!!

    Reply
  • Kathy, I noticed in your list of spiritually mature characteristics that there were many beautiful verbs – loving, giving, receiving, staying, wrestling, sacrificing. As I read on it appeared that you knew what spiritual maturity should look like because you have people around you who are demonstrating (by the way they live their lives) what it means to be spiritually mature. It made me think of that old saying “it can’t be taught – it has to be caught”. Maybe spiritual maturity is something that we have to catch from each other, which would support the idea that an authentic, loving community is an important element in spiritual growth. Thanks for the post. -Liz

    Reply
  • very true and completely apparent in the world.

    The only thing I disagree on strongly is that Bible knowledge isn’t important. I believe the Bible is extremely important… not so much knowing the facts… but soaking in the Word until you are marinated in it and it is part of your existence. It lives out in your daily life. It has nothing to do with getting us to heaven – everything to do with making His Word, The Word who we are. I am extremely passionate about the Bible. I’m not sure where you’re coming from on saying Bible knowledge isn’t important and Jesus didn’t have it. Did I misinterpret? I think there is grave danger in not including the Word of God in our spiritual maturity checklist.

    Judging others spiritual maturity is in no way what we should be doing at all…. no matter the criteria – it’s impossible to judge each other’s spiritual maturity – we have no idea what’s inside, like you say. I have written a lot about how the church has really bought into the world’s view of success & significance. we value people based on their productivity and significance in church — never realizing that what makes us valuable has nothing to do with anything except Jesus. We are totally missing the most important thing.

    I want to say that I think MOST of us are way off base and are missing the mark (sinning) in this area of our lives – but the church as a whole shows me over and over again how worldly they are in this area….. we value certain people’s lives over others…. we value popular evangelists over stay at home moms… we value preachers over new members….we value the life of a missionary over a christian widow old and gray… we value adults over babies in the womb…. we value children over the elderly

    Do you believe that a person is *more* valuable to God depending on the role they were called for?

    I don’t. I believe the only value we have is because of who is in us. I believe we are only worth anything because of Him. I don’t believe any role we have or anything we do could make us more valuable to God. For so long I have been writing posts and praying the general message, “God won’t you use me? Aren’t I important?” and He finally spoke back to me and said Randi your value does not come from what you do – your value comes from the one that created you. The fact that you were “created in His image”.

    Matthew 6:26
    Luke 12:24

    We as sinful humans value people dependent on what they can offer or have offered. I truly believe God is on such a different level and standard. In fact I take pleasure anymore in not getting recognition or credit. It sort of ‘scares’ me anymore (is that the right word) when I get praise or credit for things. I know God sees and I sort of like only Him seeing…

    So many verses speak that God looks at the heart – in other words there’s so much more going on than what we see. I have a strong connection with the elderly. I have a passion for the elderly. Time and time again, I see the circle of life — that the elderly and the stages they sometimes get to before going to heaven parallel the stages of our toddlers and infants – and we coddle and swoon over and nurture and love our babies and cast aside our elderly who need the same care. I assume it has a lot to do with our inner sinful selves knowing that our children will grow up and they will be something we will be proud of. There will be a result of our care….. while the elderly will simply get ‘worse’ and pass on. We are so results driven. We decide where we will spend our time and energy by what the outcome will be. We look at the difference “we” have made and the results “we” have done. God doesn’t.

    you are right on Kathy in your calling out of the ‘church leadership’ titles & roles… and you are right on in what the majority think spiritual maturity is all about…. it’s no good. I believe that if we are being leaders the way Jesus intended us to be — it would be hard to distinguish the leader from others right away ya know? we wouldn’t allow others to put us on a pedestal – we’d be constantly diverting praise & continually delegating power to others & being instead the biggest server.

    thanks for this as always 🙂 loved it

    Reply
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  • Nice to make your acquaintance through the Synchroblog.

    Nicely done and I can totally relate to the chocolate bunny disappointment and the discovery of maturity. 🙂

    Reply
  • Kathy only you could think in terms of hollow chocolate bunnies! LOL! Great post. For most of my christian walk I have reached for spiritual maturity by the shallow outward standards that you posted here. Only when I entered recovery did I come to believe that when I am nothing He is everything. It isn’t the pretty fluffy pink stuff that He came for or challenges us to be like. He wants the REAL. The UGLY. The DAMAGED. The HUNGRY and BANKRUPT. I too am un-doing and re-thinking so much of what I likened myself after. I was an imitator of man not an imitator of Christ. It has taken time but I am now comfortable with the fact that I am NOT like THEM. I want to be full of nuts and carmel and coconut and raisins and crispy things on the inside. The kind of stuff that gets stuck in your teeth!! I don’t want to be what can only be descibed as hollow and empty and leaving them wanting for more. This post will leave me picking my teeth Kathy. Wide deep stuff to look at here. Hugs!

    Reply
  • Kathy,
    Great post! I, too, have been enjoying visiting others’ blogs in reading their unique thoughts on Spiritual Maturity.

    I loved your use of the hollow chocolate Easter bunny here. Being disappointed with the lack of substance within it after “taking a bite.” Ah…how I’m sure many can relate to such an experience as it pertains to how we’ve lived life within the box of “Religiosity.”

    I feel SO gratefully blessed to say that I stopped buying that kind of bunny. The “bunnies” I now eat, are filled with rich, ooy, gooy, delicious satisfying substance. And…as well, I no longer buy and give others’ the “old” bunnies either. I give them what I eat.

    Great stuff, Kathy.

    Blessings,
    ~Amy 🙂
    http://amyiswalkinginthespirit.blogspot.com

    Reply
  • Ouch!! I so needed to hear these words!! I’ve been doing some major soul searching and have been coming face to face with my major case of PRIDE. I’m so thankful for a gracious, forgiving Father. 🙂

    Reply
  • I’m with you on struggling with the things commonly on the “maturity checklist”, and I liked reading your thoughts on what should be there a lot.

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  • I’ll agree with you Randi on that point- I think that Jesus demonstrated his complete knowledge and understanding of the Hebrew scriptures as he did everything. I also like your use of the work marinated and that the word is lived out. I like to think of it that way as well.
    Kathy, I think that you get to that ‘word being lived out’ well in the overall content of the blog; that seems to be the point and I appreciate it. So other than that detail, I like it a lot too! 🙂

    Reply
  • This is a hot topic in churches across America right now. Willow Creek’s “Reveal” survey prompted them (and now 500 other churches) to take a serious look at how they were doing, and this area, usually referred to as “spiritual maturity”, seemed to be hugely lacking.

    We had a long and nearly fruitless discussion about this at my former church. We had two camps, basically. One was the “maturity has to do with knowledge of the Bible and the ability to teach it to others” group, and the other was the “maturity has to do with actually DOING what you know” group. I am still firmly in the second group.

    Yes, we need to know and be “marinated” in the scriptures (great visual, btw). But I know MANY who are daily immersed in the scriptures who are relationally isolated, arrogant, rude, gossips who are put in positions of leadership because they can beat the crap out of others using the scriptures. They have no aroma of Christ to them, but rather the stench of the self-righteous pharisee.

    On the other hand, I know men and women in my church who are relatively new to following Jesus, who know very little scripture so far, but who do not read/study the scriptures just to know them in their heads. They actually read/study in order to learn how to follow Jesus better. They DO the scriptures with great passion and conviction. They don’t know everything (and they are humbly aware of this), but what they do know…they DO. This seems like maturity to me.

    I would rather be led by someone like the humble DOer than the arrogant KNOWER. The DOer is still growing and learning and willing to admit they’re wrong and yearning to be more like Jesus and wanting nothing more than to hear and OBEY him. Yes, they can be wrong and make bad choices. But if and when they do, they are quick to confess, repent and seek wise counsel. That is what maturity looks like to me.

    Perhaps this is what it means to become like little children?

    Reply
  • well said Randy – I agree.

    I believe we do need the Word – not to know it – not to necessarily teach it out in our own words – but to teach it in our actions – to know it so that it becomes who we are so we can live it out like we’re called to.

    Reply
  • steve – it is a weird paradox, isn’t it?–growing up is somehow like becoming like children? looking forward to reading everyone’s posts over the next few days

    bryan – yeah, i could have listed a bunch of verses on each of those…i was reflecting on that thought and thinking how the ones up top, yeah, not too many great scriptures to support (except for the first one :))

    alan – thanks & for all your work on getting these synchroblog posts organized, too. i haven’t had a chance to read many yet because i was out of town but look forward to it.

    liz – i think that you hit on something so important, the caught not taught part. it’s not that teaching isn’t important. of course it is, but the catching, doing, experiencing piece is far more critical, otherwise it’s just good information. i didn’t even notice those -ing words!

    randi – i think sage captured the spirit of what i meant, that those things are “living the Word” rather than just knowing the word. i love the Bible and i do think that it is intimately connected to our spiritual formation and transformation, absolutely positively. it is sharper than a two edged sword & transforming in all kinds of ways. however, i do know many people who are actually living the bible without actually knowing the bible maybe the way that some of us who have been trained in bible study stuff may have. it is an interesting little thing to observe, i must say! in hindsight, i do think i should have it on the 2nd list. i might word it this way: “a soft & open heart that seeks God’s truth through the Bible and is willing to continually and creatively apply its wisdom & challenge to our lives in all ways–personally, relationally, practically.” ah, that is just off the top of my head! my point is that maturity is more than just knowledge, it has to be the tension of actually applying it and causing us to move either inwardly or outwardly. i heard that is what you were saying, too 🙂 great challenging thoughts. thanks randi. i would love to hear more about your heart for the elderly. i so agree with how marginalized & tossed aside they are in so many ways…

    j.r. – thanks for stopping by, look forward to reading your stuff!

    tara – you crack me up. loved your expansion of the metaphor, so good….here’s to all that amazing stuff inside…

    amy – it feels good to seek the real thing, doesn’t it?

    jenn – yes, i am thankful for God’s forgiveness, too. pride is what gets me every time. when i think of the luke 7 story i always think it’s a fine & blaring contrast of pride & humility. thanks for sharing 🙂

    john – nice to hear from you here! it’s been a while. are you going to off the map in seattle this year? or denver? or LA?

    sage – thanks, yeah, you got where i was going & i appreciate so much all of your thoughts and perspectives that you share here & in our life in community together.

    randy – thanks for your great thoughts. i like the word marinated, too. i know those exact conversations, i have been in my fair share of them. it is so interesting, i would hear the “we want more meat” conversations and i would be like “real meat is the kind you don’t really want–LIFE WITH PEOPLE” that one always gets me torked. we think spiritual meat only means bible knowledge but it is so much more than that. life integrated with scripture was always much more the idea. not scripture isolated from life. can’t wait to hang out next month, i think i say that every comment to you 🙂

    and other synchrobloggers who posted pingbacks – thanks the time you have spent writing on this topic. look forward to reading..

    Reply
  • Kathy–
    Dang fine post! Loved the metaphor.

    Living our faith will naturally take us to the place beyond the rigidity you fight against in religious circles. We will just keep drawing the circle bigger until our heart bursts and there’s nothing left to contain the Love that comes from our Source.

    Thank you for your hard work and finely tuned insight…

    Reply
  • thanks Kathy

    oh wow I wouldn’t even know where to start with my love & passion & knowledge about the elderly & their plight right now… I will try to weave it into my comments 🙂 or write about it some day soon… thanks for caring 🙂

    Reply
  • Hey Kathy, hollow or not…that bunny looks tasty:) From my previous life being married to and “trying” to be a spiritual mature christian, I can identify with the following:

    -bible knowledge and ability to articulate bible knowledge: Yeah, this one was me. For some reason, I think that people who hang out in mega-churches or put “christian” in front of their name will be impressed with this. I even found myself doing this a few evenings ago in an attempt to prove that I am a “Godly” woman. One of the last things my “ex” said to me was that he was looking for one of those. I don’t even know why I was bothering to try to convince this person, who likely had formed her own opinion.
    -supposed stability in job, life, or finances: yep. check. My “ex” and I had this one down. We even had people from the church contacting us to invest in bonds to help them build their new building. What they didn’t know is that we were in debt up to our god-damn necks with no savings and volatile stock holdings.
    -some sort of leadership that is somehow visible: My “ex” had this one down. He was talented at what he did too. But he was overjoyed when the main dude of the church recongized him in the hallway. I guess it was a watershed moment, considering how many people were at the church.
    -lots of god sounding spiritual words: me…not so much in the recent past, but I do have an arsenal of them in archive from my time as a fundamentalist:)
    -doing doing doing a myriad of Christiany things: Check. We were part of one of the most successful small groups in our entire church. Well…pin a medal on that. Who cares. My “ex” was more into the doing, I was more into the “hanging” with the people in leadership that he knew.

    We were never honest about who we were and where we were at in our marriage. I don’t really know what the fall out looked like, as I did not “get” the church as part of our divorce. I imagine a lot of people rallied around him, which was nice….I’m not really sure I wanted them to follow me anyhow. Although their total lack of concern made me wonder why I was friends with them for the past 5.5 years. I’m sure they were confused too.

    I think I’ll always be struggling with the things Jesus wanted for us. I mainly struggle with…them all. But Jesus is and his attitude were definitely what made Christianity real for me. I guess it wouldn’t make sense if that weren’t the case, but I have encountered it. I’ll never forget the first time I read about Jesus for myself. I thought he was so incredible. I still do.

    Reply
  • Love the hollow bunny analogy. And all the comments…

    Simple answer for me is spiritual maturity = becoming more and more like Christ. Becoming holy, inside and out. Think all the emphasis on living and doing the Word vs. just knowing it captures that well…

    Blessings

    Reply
  • just wanted u to know Kathy that God has been working on me and breaking down the way I used to think about things…. and He has been using you as part of that process in shaping me. or breaking me to shape me. or whatever haha

    I am not near as experienced or knowledgeable or mature as any of you — but I just wanted you to know He’s at work and I appreciate so much your voice.

    I wrote a blog based on my thoughts after I read this entry from you. here it is if u care to read it.

    http://seedsinmyheart.blogspot.com/2008/09/value-success-growth.html

    i hope it’s okay I call u kathy. or is it mrs. escobar?

    Reply
  • sorry, i have been out of town a lot and just now getting back to some of these comments. thanks everyone for all your thoughts.

    beth p. – thanks and i really enjoyed reading yours, too! yeah, God is bigger than all the limits we try to put in place!

    randi – yes, i would love to hear & i so appreciate how this is a time of lots of challenge and shifting in your journey & that God is moving in really powerful ways in your heart. it’s beautiful. i haven’t had time to go over to the blog post yet, but i will when i get back into town. thanks for letting me know! and whatever ever ever you do do not call me mrs. escobar! hahhaha 🙂

    lisa – yeah, you’ve been there. i love what you said about Jesus and his attitude, that that is what has lingered and still lingers. i think that’s the essence!

    steve – always great to hear from you here. i love 2 corinthians 3:16-18, that we’d be transformed more and more into his likeness as the veil is removed. again. again. again.

    pops – i will check out your post! always fun to hear from you from S.A.!

    kathy – welcome! and thank you for your kind words. how did you her about the carnival blog?

    Reply
  • thanks Kathy! Really I am not worried so much about you reading my thoughts — I recognize how busy you are and really I know my words are mostly for me and my journey but I just wanted to encourage you that your words were being used and that I really felt God was teaching me things through your voice on here! 🙂 have a great week – hope your trip was good!

    Reply
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