WLSU: Growing Up
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There’s a lot not to like about growing up. I get tired more easily, and I have indigestion a lot. I snore now. I pay bills and have responsibility. I feel responsible for others at work, and then I come home and feel responsible for others there too. I do laundry, worry about my cholesterol, and wake up before sunrise. I have the occasional panic attack. I walk around the house grumbling and turning off lights everyone else left on. Plus, there’s the midlife crisis and the existential dread.
My generation calls it adulting. The act of being an adult, which can feel heavy. Don’t grow up, my friends say: It’s a trap.
But I have a confession to make. I love being an adult. I get to stay up past my bedtime. I get to drive a car. I have to work, sure, but I also get to work – get to do something I love and learn how to get better at it. I will never have to take another math test, never get another detention. Sure, I went bald, but now I don’t get hat hair. I get to have a beard. I watch R-Rated movies. I eat my kids’ Halloween candy after they go to bed. I have two dogs! I had one and wanted another one, so I got another one! It was a terrible idea, but it was my terrible idea and all I had to do was be willing to live with the consequences!
I didn’t much like being a kid, to be honest. It’s not like I had a bad childhood. I wasn’t trying to escape. But from a very young age, I believed that I would enjoy being an adult so much more. And then I grew up and I was right. This is what I’ve been waiting for. All the stressors I described before are still true. It’s very very difficult, this adulting. But I love it. I love being grown-up.
It’s painful and it’s scary. I both laugh and cry more readily than I ever did as a child. It’s all more terrible and beautiful than I ever could have imagined.
I know our culture is obsessed with youth; that we are programmed to look backward and yearn for an idealized version of who we once were, to long for younger bodies and simpler times. I do it too. Some of it is about being scared of death. Some of it is wishing we could have had the ability to comprehend back then just how precious time was when everything seemed endless and ageless and eternal. And some of it is the legitimate annoyance that if I sleep wrong tonight, I will be sore for three days.
I’m not saying I didn’t worry when I was a child. I did. I worried about death. I worried about nuclear war. I worried about my appearance and my weight even as a child. I worried about dying and going to Hell for thinking or doing the wrong thing. But when I was scared, I could tell a parent and they would assure me that everything was alright. And I could fall asleep on them, and they could carry me to bed. One day you get too big to carry, and nobody ever carries you again. One day it’s your job to tell someone else everything is alright, and you realize you’re not sure if that’s true, and you realize your parents weren’t sure either, but they needed you to go to sleep so they could get a small break from being responsible for you.
It’s tempting to look for God to fill the gap, to assuage the grief that arrives when certainty walks out the door. My parents can’t carry me, but God can. The poem about the footsteps in the sand and the God who carried me during the tough times. All that. The temptation to find your lost certainty in Scriptures or the words of a sermon. But I don’t know – I love Jesus and I believe in God, and still: The certainty has not returned. I believe God is with me in the impossible times, that I am loved and held and cared for eternally – but that doesn’t seem to make the complexity of this life dissipate. God may be carrying me, but I am not asleep.
In the writings of the apostle Paul, he speaks often about the need to grow up. In one letter, he tells Christians they need to grow into what he calls the full stature of Christ. He is talking about spiritual maturity. In another letter he laments that his audience hasn’t been weaned from the mother’s milk yet and he wants them to graduate to solid food. He’s calling them babies. He’s telling them that if they’re serious about understanding the fullness of God’s love, they will have to let go of their fixation on spiritual simplification and emotional immaturity. His specific prayer for them is that they will grow up enough to truly comprehend the height and depth and width and breadth of the love for which they are made.
We are made for that same love. We are nourished by it, and we nourish others with it, but only if we are willing to grow up. Every single day God invites us to participate in the heavenly work of justice, healing, and reconciliation. To accept that invitation is to abandon our obsession with easy answers and the good old days. We who have grown up know somewhere deep down in our marrow that there is beauty in the accountability, in the calling, the vocation of our lives.
Being young is a special blessing. “Be like the children if you want to know Heaven,” Jesus said, and I don’t think he was kidding. The openness and curiosity, the wonder and eternal possibility, the brutal honesty and playfulness is beyond powerful. Growing up doesn’t mean dismissing what I was, or disregarding others who are now where I once was. It’s possible for me to grow up without ever being mature. Maturity is, I believe, the ability to approach the world with that wonder and curiosity even as the idealism and naivete is squeezed out of me. When I love readily and magnificently, even though I know firsthand about broken hearts and unrealized dreams – that is holy.
Spiritual adulting – which is to say having all the options in front of you and choosing Love anyway – is hard work. I want my mom to give me clear answers. I want my dad to carry me again. I crave certainty. I don’t want to believe in God: I want to know God is real and God is good, and God will end war and poverty and I never want to doubt again. One of the hardest parts about growing up, aside from colonoscopies, is forfeiting certainty. I hate it so much that I often simply refuse to do it.
One of my teachers, the 20th century Washington D.C. prophet and pastor Gordon Cosby was often quoted as saying, “The church in America is structured for spiritual infancy.” So often I want to be a spiritual kid again. But when I move beyond my need for certainty, I find that God is perfectly at home in ambiguity. When I accept that, I grow up a little. I grow up a little more when I stop trying to get back to a simplified and idealized version of faith and accept the wrinkles and love handles of the faith I have here and now.
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