When I grow up…
Yet I find myself, in my mid-forties, growing and changing into an entirely new version of me, long after the world has stopped expecting me to develop further. I’ve experienced a significant growth spurt in the past couple of years (not in height, sadly), which has led me to wonder if we’re short-changing ourselves in setting our expectations so low.
I’ve noticed two equally destructive tendencies at play around this topic (three if you count a general fear of aging or displaying physical signs thereof). One is around the (utterly abhorrent) neologism ‘adulting’, meaning ‘behaving like an adult’. It is the resistance towards moving out of the young, free, single party animal phase and into adulthood. We have glorified youth so much that we’ve bred a generation of Lost Boys (and Girls) who are terrified of growing up.
The second is the ‘Is this all there is?’ syndrome, characterised by the mid-life, or nowadays quarter-life, crisis.
How have we so misrepresented life as to cause people to resist adulthood and then have a crisis thinking their best years are behind them before they’ve reached their thirties?! Is this all there is? By no means!
There are many contributing factors to this problem: the natural desire of parents to want more and better for their children than they had, resulting in children and young adults being encouraged and urged up the educational and career ladders. Our increasing prosperity meaning it is possible, then normal, then vital for each adult generation of a family to have its own home, so children only grow up in close, daily contact with one other generation, making age a mysterious and fearful thing. The idolisation of independence meaning we keep ourselves apart from one another and making it seem a shameful failure to ask for help, even from one’s own children.
Age, in the modern mindset, equates to infirmity, loneliness, weakness and being burdensome. No wonder we fear it.
But as Christians we don’t have to. This is one area where our lives can witness loud and clear to the watching world what a difference knowing Jesus makes. The future is no longer something to fear, characterised only by loss and decay. Though our bodies and minds will decay, our friendship with God won’t, and in fact should only get better.
Discipleship does not peak at 25. The Christian walk never ends. There’s always ‘further up and further in’. As we grow, it grows, and we can never fathom its depths nor reach its heights.
What’s more, it’s intended to be inter-generational. We should be walking our walk alongside those who are both older and younger than us. Those who are more mature in faith are commanded to teach and help those who are younger, while the younger are instructed to honour and learn from the older. We’re meant to be in each other’s lives, learning from one another’s wisdom and experience, and meeting one another’s spiritual and physical needs.
With a few notable exceptions (like Terry and Wendy Virgo, in Newfrontiers circles), we’ve neglected to honour our older brothers and sisters. I love the dynamic young speakers and writers too, but I’m struck by how little attention we - and I - pay to learning from those who are older.
If I want to be someone God can use in my later years (if he grants me later years), I both can and should start building the relevant character traits and habits now, and I am watching those older and more mature than me to find out what that looks like and to learn from their example. (It’s a challenge in a central London church, where there are very few people older than about 35, but the ones we’ve got are wonderful examples.)
Just as when we were children, what we want to be in future needs to shape what we do now, as it will be shaped almost entirely (barring a miraculous intervention from God) by what we do now. If you wanted to be a pianist, ballerina or footballer, you needed to practise your piano scales, ballet steps or ball skills. If you want to have a rich and fruitful old age you need to start planting and cultivating the corresponding fruit trees now.
I’ve been struck recently by just how often little old ladies seem to pop up in stories of God’s powerful works. They are people who pray persistently and faithfully, and see hundreds of lives transformed. They give sacrificially - usually tiny amounts in the grand scheme of things, but those tiny amounts, given boldly and obediently, open the floodgates of heaven and pour down God’s blessings on whoever is in need. They speak out what God has revealed to them, often when others are too polite or afraid, and change the course of history.
Those stories inspire and encourage me. Old ladies don’t have to be lonely, crotchety, bitter people, passed by and overlooked. They can be powerful tools in God’s hands, even from their reclining chairs. (And there’s no reason the same shouldn’t be true for little old men, too.) But it doesn’t spring up over night. Just as roots of bitterness and unforgiveness are planted in youth or middle age and nurtured over decades, so are roots of faith, hope and love, joy and peace, thankfulness and generosity. I want to start learning now how to pray, how to hear God’s voice, how to respond with boldness and generosity when he calls, so that when I grow old, I can be one of his little old ladies.
Life is good right now. I could sit back on my laurels and enjoy it, but I know that there’s more, far more, to life than this. Further up and further in!