Permission to Change and Grow

The spring always reminds me of God's love for change and growth.

You have my permission to change and grow. 

Not that you need it. But in our age I wouldn’t blame you if you assumed the opposite.
We find ourselves in a world that demands ideological and/or theological purity. We look for friends and allies that agree with our own inerrant biases and downplay or demonize dissidents.[1]
Daily I consume this lie online. When a person expresses a view deemed to be an aberration from a group’s concretized norms, the onslaught begins. I’ve also seen it as a pastor—the not-so-subtle efforts to weed out the theological weakest links. 

But recently I noticed this lie creeping into my parenting. Every evening I expend more mental energy brushing my three-year old’s teeth than I did in my two marathons. Sometimes the effort leaves me flat on my back, eyes shut, and heart racing. There’s this skill we take for granted when we brush our own teeth: spitting out the foamy remains of our toothpaste. As I’ve discovered, this is a skill that is not inherent to the human brain, it must be taught. For the first two years of my son’s life I was patient, realizing a two-year-old can’t spit on command. But then something switched. An internal demand emerged in me, “You must stop swallowing this toxic goo!!!” 

Every night he’d swallow and I’d fume. Every night I’d begin calmly explaining that we spit our toothpaste out so that it doesn’t harm our stomachs and he’d smile, giggle, and gulp it home. If ever smoke has burst from my ears it was then. 

Then one night a few weeks ago, having given up on my nightly lectures of proper technique, I noticed a glob of goop in his mouth after I finished and his big glassy eyes were looking at me saying, “ready to spit daddy!”

“Well then, let me carry you to this handy sink for your spitting pleasure.” 

And that was that. He’s done it almost every night since, with minimal help from me. 

I forgot about development. I wanted him to just be what I wanted him to be. But humans grow and change . . . and they don’t really stop this process. One day we wake up ready to spit out our toothpaste.  Another day we wake up ready to choose a career. Maybe we wake up ready to rethink our relationship with an abusive person. Another day we wake up ready to tackle tough questions about our beliefs.[2] But when we aren’t ready, we just aren’t, often to the tremendous frustration of those who already are. 

For me the key to this process is a continuous commitment to lay my life bare before Christ. I want him to change me. I want him to reform me. I want him to help me spit out whatever toxic things I’m swallowing. And he does, in his time. 

The idea that people ever exist as an unchanging model of doctrinal perfection is just a lie and an unfair expectation to place on our siblings in faith. Take Peter for instance. 

Early on in Acts, Peter delivers the seminal address, the birthing sermon of the early church. He passes by and his shadow draws out healing for the sick and lame. He’s revered, he’s the foundational figure in a glorious early age. And he’s dead wrong on an essential point of doctrine. Peter thinks the Gospel is for his people, the Jewish people, and not for the rest of the world. God, in God’s time, shakes him free.

In the first chapter of Acts Jesus clearly commands his disciples to go to the Gentiles of the earth to bring them the message of salvation. Peter, as of the tenth chapter hasn’t done that on his own, nor has he sent anyone to do it for him. He’s still in Judaea working with Jews. And the text implies rather strongly that the reason he hasn’t made efforts at reaching Gentiles is because he believes they are unclean and therefore unworthy of his association. 

God gives him a vision, in which Peter argues with God about eating unclean food (10:14). Acts says that the vision happened three times. So Peter really, really didn’t want to let go of this idea. But he finally accepts it, saying to Cornelius and his family,

You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for (Acts 10:28a-29b).

Peter gets the lesson, though he waffles with Paul later on, but he gets it. He changes. Peter, the soil from which our faith grew its first sprouts had to learn and relearn huge lessons. Can you imagine if God had dismissed him before Pentecost because his theology wasn’t perfect? God gets development, God adores growth, and that necessitates patience and humility with people we perceive as erroneous.

People change and grow. So should you. So should I. I am not yet what Christ wishes me to be, so I must lean in, cling to him, and let him shake me free from my own errors. Perhaps with my own ongoing transformation in mind I can approach the world expecting people to not be where they ought to be. We can, I think, see people through the patient eyes of the God who shepherds us all into his truth, even if we aren’t quite there yet.

[1] Sometimes I find this reality shocking. Then I realize that we’re actually doing better at this than any time in our known history. Putting up with people who disagree with us is just not a strong human trait.
[2] I don’t mean to say that these things just happen suddenly and without any backstory. A million factors swirl, merge, let go, come, and leave to bring us to these sacred moments. But sometimes it does feel like, “Okay, now I’m ready.”


  1. Loved the toothpaste-spit-learning illustration. As you probably know, theologians argue that God does exactly such developmental training in the canon, they call it progressive revelation.


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