The local Walmart in our town has a kid’s corner of sorts, where parents can pump whatever change they get after paying for their purchases into mechanical toys, or machines that will spit out a penny’s worth of plastic toy for a half dollar or thereabouts.
I’d been shopping at that Walmart for the better part of a decade, and hadn’t noticed this money pit, but that all changed the first time I took my eldest daughter to the store with me. I may not have noticed the blinking lights, and the colorful signage, but she sure did.
Since she was still shy of one-year-old, and I feared one of those tiny toys might end up in her digestive tract at some point, I took the safe route and placed her on a mechanical horse that swayed gently forwards then backward, once you inserted the two quarters in the slot.
The look on her face the first time that plastic horse began to sway was priceless. A beaming, all-consuming smile that lasted the whole thirty or so seconds of the ride, and it was well worth another fifty cents, then another just to see that smile again and again.
The ride came to be known as the pony ride, and sure enough, every time we went to Walmart, it was mandatory. All told, I probably could have bought a nice watch with all the quarters I fed into that machine, not a Rolex or a Tag Heuer, but certainly a Timex.
As time passed and she grew, the excitement of it began to dwindle. That first initial enthusiasm was never reproduced, although she enjoyed the ride and still smiled occasionally. Eventually some two years later, as we were walking past the kid’s corner, she gave me a serious look and said, “I think I’m too old for the pony ride, daddy, I think I’ll skip it this time.”
My little girl was growing up, and the mix of emotion I felt at that moment is difficult to put into words. Half of me wanted to talk her into going on the pony ride because I wanted to hold on to that innocence of youth for as long as possible. The other half was exceedingly proud that she realized she was growing out of it. Inherently, instinctively, she determined that seasons of change must come in life, and if we refuse to embrace them, we’ll end up in our thirties, still riding the pony ride at Walmart.
There is a point to this little trip down memory lane, and it is this: we are seeing an entire generation of believers who have entered adulthood, whose level of spiritual maturity ought to have exceeded being seduced by blinking lights and pony rides, yet who show no signs of having done so. What’s worse, those deemed their spiritual fathers are doing everything they can to keep them in that mindset of spiritual infancy, because spiritual infancy creates dependence, which translates into control.
If your spiritual father, mentor, pastor, or whoever you look up to for spiritual succor does not insist on your spiritual growth, if they do not rejoice when you mature past the pony ride and go from milk to meat, not only should you ask why, but maybe reassess whether or not they have your best interest at heart.
The wolves are feral, ravenous, and heartless. The shepherds are not. It’s easy to distinguish between the two if you have the wherewithal to confront the truth and take steps to remedy the situation.
Anyone who does not encourage you to grow, and who insists that without them you will surely be set adrift upon an ocean of despair is doing so for their benefit and not yours.
When I started writing these lines this morning, it was with a different purpose, but this is where the Spirit led me, and I believe it is for someone who will end up reading these words.
Spiritual leaders are not called to be the babysitters of God’s daycare; they are called to be the generals of God’s army.
With love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.