Weekly Edgework #20 - Nov 17, 2004

On Becoming an Adult

I remember when this thought hit me, sometime in my 30s: you never grow up. Even if you’re legally and biologically a certified member of the state of adulthood, you continue to go through…many dangers, toils and snares…many frustrations and breakthroughs…many learnings and unlearnings and relearnings. This was a disappointing realization to me, because I had always imagined since my junior high years that eventually I would reach the tidy state of adulthood where life would calm down, questions would be finally answered, commitments secure, routines established, beliefs cemented, change complete. Looking back, I had confused adulthood with death, not realizing that adult life is really just an extension of junior high (Stories of Emergence, Brian D. McLaren, Ed. Mike Yaconnelli, p. 222).

When I was a child, it seemed that life was forever changing. I kept track of how I was inching upward toward what I hoped would be at least six feet. Every September I started a new grade at school, often with a new teacher. Sometimes my friends and I looked back with disdain on those in the grades below us. They surely had a long way to go before they reached our level of development. They were so childish - at least when compared to how much closer to the adult ideal we had come!

When I reached adolescence it seemed like the pace of change speeded up. Awakening sexually in a world where all things sexual were considered naughty, at least so it seemed, brought with it periods of confusion and guilt. One week I had a crush on a girl who had spoken kindly to me. The next week I felt betrayed when I heard that same girl make fun of me to her friends. Valentine’s Day at school was always a wringer, especially when you saw your friend receive a nice valentine from the girl you had hoped to impress, and you got none. One day hope was high – the next day sunshine had faded into stormy weather.

From the context of those turbulent years adulthood looked so stable. It seemed that adults stayed the same from year to year. Any changes were so gradual you did not notice them. But there were still many winding roads to travel before I would arrive at that more tranquil adult world where everything was cemented into place. There would be many mountains to climb, rivers to ford and valleys to traverse. And once I arrived, the only remaining challenge would be to see to it that my own kids would reach that same plateau in the shortest time possible.

So I marched and climbed forward as bravely as I could toward the land of the strong and free – the adult world. Eventually, by hook or by crook, I got a hand-hold on the edge of the cliff upon which I assumed the adult world existed. With great effort I hauled myself up. But to my amazement, when I looked around after catching my breath, I realised I was perched on a narrow ledge. O well, I thought, I would use this ledge as a launching pad for the final push toward the top. Soon I would arrive at that placid plateau of adulthood. From there I would call down words of encouragement to those scrambling upward to where I was now safely reclining beside still waters.

From my present vantage-point in life, I now realise that such an image of adulthood is illusion, pure and simple. Life doesn’t work that way. Life is a journey that keeps taking me over terrain I have never seen before. There are always new things to learn and old understandings to discard. From out of no where it seems I am confronted with hurdles I must leap over. Sometimes the road winds sharply and dangerously close to the edge I thought I had left far behind. And gradually I begin to discover that some of my adult stumbles and fumbles are related to wounds of my childhood and youth that have never healed well. So on occasion I must climb back down to those places to patch up those hurting places of the soul before I can move on again.

It is a sad sight indeed to see persons who have reached a ledge in the journey of life trying to convince themselves that they have reached the plateau of adulthood. Through a process involving denial and myopic vision they try to assure themselves that they have learned all there is to learn about life. And should anyone be interested, or not, they are glad to dispense the formula they used to reach their goal. Life for such persons consists largely of circling the block one more time. When life does confront them with new challenges that could be stepping stones for growth, they force those challenges through the only simple, worn out moulds they have become accustomed to. No wonder that adult life then becomes bland or even boring for such persons.

The Apostle Peter encourages us to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). And he was addressing adult believers. When we relegate growth to the young, or at least to those younger than ourselves, we miss out on the joy of the journey. But growth means change, even when you are past fifty! Those I learn from the most are persons who are continually learning and growing themselves. I hope I never stop growing, no matter how old I get. I hope I never confuse adulthood with death.

As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul – not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory strength God gives. It is a strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us (Col. 1:10-12, The Message).