Q13: Growing Up

Question: How do you know you have reached the 'when I grow up' stage?


Now there is a question which sends a rush of thoughts to my head.  Lost innocence as a substitute for wisdom, growing up to fast and extended adolescence, maturity and faked maturity, getting married at 13 and getting married at 21, and Someday Never Comes by CCR

If you have never heard that song, give it a listen.  Here is the first verse and chorus:

First thing I remember was askin' papa "why?"
For there were many things I didn't know. 
And Daddy always smiled; took me by the hand, 
Sayin', "Someday you'll understand." 

Well, I'm here to tell you now each and ev'ry mother's son
You better learn it fast and you better learn it young,
'Cause, "Someday" never comes. 

Thoughts Approaching the Question

When I hear this question I can't help thinking about how messed up our society has become about 'growing up.'  That is why all of those immediate thoughts are paired.  Growing up is, clearly, a largely culturally determined phenomenon.  People used to marry much younger, for example. I was married when I was 21, which is considered quite young by most people today.  Hundreds of years ago, women were 'ready' at age 13... Even in our own age, you can find different rites of passage being observed at different ages.  For example, can you drink at age 18, 19, or 21  (or before, but only certain beverages)? What about driving; licensed at 16, 17, 18?  The very idea of adolescence was invented about a century or so ago and our version of childhood is extremely different than anything which has come before. 

Why do I bring this up? Because in order to answer the question I have to define the answer which is embedded in the question: the definition of "grown up." There's the rub. Because if we mean by 'grown up' the point at which we have it all together, or feel more like we have it all together, or some version of 'figuring stuff out' then my answer is the same as the one you find in that song by CCR.  

If, instead, we want to determine 'grown up' by some set of external criteria (have a job, moved out of home, know where we are headed in life, etc.) then you will know you have reached that point when you have achieved all of those things.  Personally, I don't think that most of the mile-markers we fill in this gap with have much to do with growing up, but you gotta have goals right? 

If we are working with a vague, ill-defined, concept which amounts to an amalgamation of cultural expectations, personal goals, and elusive feelings, then I think that the anonymous commenter on my post "Topic Fail? Help?" probably got it right on: the day you stop asking is the day you have arrived. 

With that said, I would like to offer you my thoughts in three parts: what it means to grow up, a bit of my own story, and a conclusion. 

Growing up? What's that? 

Disclaimer: This is my vision of growing up, my thoughts on the subject if we could take it in an ideal light.  Clearly this is never the case.

Growing up is a process of change which affects several parts of us.  It is growing in maturity in all of our relationships: to ourselves, to our family and friends, to our communities and cultures, and to God.  We grow in our understanding of ourselves, our desires, our strengths and weaknesses.  At the same time, we realize how little we know about these things and so much more.  We grow in our ability to take responsibility, not only for own life but for the effects we have on others lives.  We become more able to step outside of ourselves but also more able to fully inhabit our selves.  We step away from some of the safety nets which we grew up in, specifically those which we must step away from in order to continue walking forward.  However, we also learn to value, appreciate, and guard those safety nets which can come with us.  The "ups and downs" of life continue, but we learn how to handle them a little bit better.  And we learn what matters, as in, what really matters.  

I think if I were to sum it up I would say this: we gain experience and perserverance.  If that is growing up, then it is no wonder that it is so culturally determined.  The more sheltered we are, the less experience we gain.  The more media saturated we are, the less experience we gain.  The less responsibility we are given in our lives, or in our choices, the less experience we gain.  In the west teenagers spend the majority of their time in over-filled classrooms with peers as their only real role-models, and we wonder why they lack maturity? Enough, or I will rant. 

About Me

When I was 'growing up' I was often looked at as 14 going on 30.  Or whatever age I happened to be. I was serious about life.  I liked video-games, but I liked reading more.  I joined a book club when I was in junior high; I invested a lot of my paper route, and then Dairy Queen, money into that club!  I had very little interest in many of those things which teens focus on: dating, partying, 'fitting in', etc.  Now, I am not saying I wasn't a teenager.  I most certainly was.  I had my fill of doing dumb things, laughing at ridiculous moments, goofing off with friends, and sleepovers.  Nor am I saying that this was somehow a better way to go; quite the opposite.  

As much as I was looked on as 'older than my years' or 'more mature than my age' I was not grown up.  You see, the people who looked at me like this had confused knowledge and focus for maturity.  Let me give you an example. 

In my second year university I took a directed studies course on hermeneutics. For this course I read a lot of books, wrote a 35 page paper, and had a verbal final exam which consisted of an interview with my professor in which he asked me questions for over an hour. At the end of that interview my prof told me that he wanted to ask me one more question.  I don't remember exactly how he asked it, but the gist of the question was this: if you are going to try to bring about change in an organization, what is the best speed and method?  My answer: Slowly, personally, simultaneously from the top down and the bottom up.  He looked at me shocked.  

Throughout the entire exam he had been firing questions at me one after the other.  I would barely get my answer out before the next question came.  This one was different.  After a long pause he shook his head and said "Your absolutely right, but how do you know that at your age?" At the time I was so flustered from the exam that I had no idea how to answer him.  I said something about it seeming the right answer, or the only way that would work, or something like that.  But, very quickly after the exam I realized where I had learned this truth: from books.  From fiction books no less.  I had assimilated that knowledge and done with it the same thing I did with all my book learning.  I remembered it and made it an answer.  

Two years later I was president of the Campus Crusade for Christ chapter at my university (now known as 'Campus for Christ', a much better name :).  I had been involved in leadership for two years already, this was my third.  Our group of students was dissatisfied with the way Crusade was run, had been in some verbal fights with the national leadership, and was itching to make changes.  So we ran hard and fast, changing what we could at a local level and basically ignoring everything else... As president and before I completely failed to follow my own advice.  

As I grew up, that was the difference for me.  Growing up was the process of actually learning all of the things I already knew, forgetting a bunch of other stuff, and finding out what really mattered in life. 


So, how did I know when I had reached the 'when I grow up' stage? I never really asked the question... I thought I had made it when I was 16 and got my license.  Then when I was 18 and legally an adult.  Then when I was 20, engaged, back on track with my faith, and new where I was 'going in life'.  Then when I was 21, newly married, and off to a foreign country to teach English.  If I have learned anything its that 'growing up' is the wrong goal. 

I have been growing for 28 years, and hope to continue doing so for many more.  I think Kristina, my wife, would be the first to tell you that I have plenty more 'growing up' to do :)  I hope to never lose all the important qualities of a child.  I hope to gain more and more experience, and to never forget what really matters. I hope to mature, "growing up into Him who is the head, that is, Christ" (Ephesians 4:15) until the day He calls me home.  

1 comment:

Brad said...

Great blog Andrew. I really enjoyed it