This past Monday, I was in a bad mood, out of sorts, and Joan was getting exasperated with me. We ordinarily get along very well, but I discerned from her plain Quaker speech that she was exasperated with me.
“What’s wrong with you today?” she asked.
I didn’t want to tell the truth, that I can be immature and cranky, so I blamed my foul disposition on the weather and the coronavirus.
“It’s this darn rain,” I said. “And…this coronavirus. Yeah, that’s right, the coronavirus. I’m tired of it. I want to see my friends.”
One of the things I love about Joan is that she never lies, and therefore never suspects anyone else does either.
“It’ll be sunny before long,” she said. “And we’ll adjust to social distancing.”
Then she turned away and said, in a very soft voice, which she thought I couldn’t hear, but I did, “Or you might try growing up.”
Well, that’s easier said than done, isn’t it?
Growing up? Since when did that become necessary?
I was chatting with a friend the other day and we were talking about this man who drives us crazy.
My friend said, “He’ll grow up.”
The man who drives us crazy is almost 80 years-old.
I said, “I’m not sure about that.”
What does it mean to grow up? When I was little, I thought growing up and becoming a responsible and mature human being was correlated with one’s age. Our language even assumes this, doesn’t it? It’s why we call adults “grown-ups.” But then I noticed that some grown-ups aren’t grown up? Have you noticed that, too?
Back in my evangelical days, I thought the task of the pastor and the work of the church was to get people saved. I understood “saved” to mean believing certain things about Jesus (that he was faultless), certain things about God (that God was mad), and certain things about humans (that we were bad). It kind of also meant voting for Ronald Reagan and singing bad Christian music (the same words over and over and over). If I did all those things, then and I’d be saved and go to heaven when I died.
I believe this was the work and purpose of the church. I no longer believe that. Now I think the work and purpose of the church is to help us grow up. What do I mean by that? When we say someone needs to grow up, what are we saying? We often say that in a derisive, snarky way. You just need to grow up! I wish she would grow up! Why doesn’t he grow up? Usually we say that when someone has done something we don’t like. What the other person did may or may not have been mature, but they did something we didn’t want them to do.
I know a man who owns a business. It’s been in their family for several generations, and he wants his son to take it over. The son became a teacher instead. He’s a wonderful teacher. He wins awards for his teaching. Not long ago I heard the father say, “I’ll be happy when my son grows up and gets back here to give me a hand.” You know what I think? It isn’t the son who needs to grow up, is it?
Have you ever noticed how often we ask people where they grew up, but never ask how they grew up, so that we could learn something of the process ourselves. How did you grow up? What were the events that contributed to your growing up, to your maturing? If we were to ask that question, we’d discover that very few of us grow up all at once. In her book, The Power, Naomi Alderson writes, “Every day one grows a little, every day something is different, so that in the heaping up of days suddenly a thing that was impossible has become possible. This is how a girl becomes a grown woman, (how a boy becomes a grown man.) Step by step until it is done.” You’ll notice there’s no specific time to that. It’s just the heaping up of the days.
We know some people grew up sooner than others. When a child has endured hardship, we say, “They had to grow up early.” Then there are people who’ve lived many, many years but haven’t grown up. If growing-up isn’t correlated with age, then how do we know when we’re grown up?
To better answer that question, we’ll be thinking about the qualities and traits of grown-up people in the weeks ahead. But first, let’s define what it means to be grown-up. I don’t want to assume we all know and agree on what that means, especially since we’ve observed that being grown up isn’t necessarily related to one’s age.
So here’s my definition. Like everything I say from the pulpit, you are free to make it your own, to improve it if you can, or to dismiss it. But this is my starting place. A grown-up is someone who is consciously aware of their feelings, and takes responsibility for their decisions and actions. A grown up person might well be angry, might well be jealous, might well be depressed, but they filter these feelings through a set of ethical commitments. They are not slaves to their anger, slaves to their jealousy, slaves to their sorrow. They are not only committed to their own autonomy and growth, they are committed to the autonomy and growth of others. Because a grown-up wants others to grow up.
Just as the aim of the flower is to bloom and the goal of the stream is to reach the sea, the aspiration of humanity is to mature, to grow up. And this is essential, because we have to live with one another, in good times and bad, in rich times and poor, in sickness and in health, which includes pandemics, which I realized this past Monday while talking with my wife.