Fed Up With Growning Up
Deep down, I just want to play. I’m childish. Notice that I didn’t say “I’m childlike”. Childish is a word that, especially in the Church, is looked down on because of its perceived connotations of pettiness and fussy discontent. An -ish ending on a word often conveys a nasty condition. Childlike, however, is much more acceptable. If you’re childlike, you’ve retained your sense of wonder and faith and innocence. But I’m fed up just enough with the abuse of both words that I honestly don’t care to make a distinction anymore.
I’m writing this because I feel Christians (myself included, certainly) are a bit too grownup for their own good. Let there be any bit of silliness, any revelry in a pile of leaves, any “infantile” joke, any overall frolicking (beautiful word, isn’t it?) and you’ve obviously devolved into an irresponsible creature, lacking in perspective.
Now, for sure, we do need to “grow up” in the sense of human anatomy and psychological development. We must support ourselves and those we love. We must pay our taxes, give generously, love well, take our punches, and learn from the scars. That sort of growing up is wonderful and natural and good.
But there is a colder form of maturation that is no maturation at all. It is not growing up. It is growing out. It is a process in which one grows out of all things childish or childlike or imaginative or silly. It is a putting away of childish things. And here’s where I think Christians run into a severe misunderstanding. This is where I was stuck for a long time before I grew up a little.
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)
This verse has become a licence to jettison one’s childhood in favor of big boy and big girl clothes. This verse has been twirled like a club, beating dreamers into submission, into “acting their age”. If acting your age means being wise as serpents and innocent as doves, loving other people as fellow creatures made in God’s image, and putting the needs of others before our own, then we should certainly act our age. But this verse is often pushed down the throat of the kid in us, choking the life out of our silliness and our creativity. This is the verse that builds up inhibitions. This is the verse that lies and tells us there no monsters under the bed. This is the verse that tells us faery land doesn’t exist.
At least, that is what the verse has been twisted to say.
But there needs to be a few things said about the context and meaning of this sweet little verse. 1.) It is descriptive, not prescriptive. Paul is explaining something that happened in his youth. He is not commanding all Christians to follow suit. 2.) This verse is the illustration, not the point. In context, Paul is talking about how we won’t need prophecy or tongues or knowledge because one day we will be fully known as we ought to be. 3.) Putting away childish things does not mean putting away the child.
The Fear of Appearing Childish
Let me harp on that last point for a bit. Just because I don’t play with my X-Men action figures anymore doesn’t mean I don’t love the epic scope and grandeur of sweeping battle fields and heroic action sequences. Just because I no longer create little bug worlds in my mom’s garden does not mean I don’t lose myself in the shock and wonder of nature (see previous post). The child in me is still very much active, even if I’m an adult.
But this is what a lot of grown-ups fear: being thought of as childish. In “An Experiment in Criticism”, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Nothing is more characteristically juvenile than contempt for juvenility.” Which is worse: the man who gallops through the woods just so he can get dirty or the man who’s too scared to admit he wants to as well?
As one who works with students in a church setting, I often feel like I have more fun than some of them. Oh, they enjoy themselves and do alright, I suppose. But every now and then, I can see their shields go up and they become too scared to move. Some of them always keep an eye on their peers, wondering if they’re doing it right, if they’re acting their age. It’s times like those I wish I could just lock them in a closet with a Winnie the Pooh book until they learned to laugh again. Maybe it’s this monster we call “adolescence” that robs everyone blind.
Do It Again!
We’ve lost the childish joy that God immortal has. Look at the apparent monotony of the created order. All daisies look like daisies. Chickens lay eggs. Fish swim in water. The sun rises every morning, over and over again. Hum drum and ho hum. Yawn.
But God does not view it as monotony. He doesn’t look at it as a lack of variety that all daisies are the same or that the sun comes up again and again. God has enough abounding vitality to exult in a repeated game, like a child wanting you to play the same song or do the same trick over and over until you pass out.
“Grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. Bu perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, “Ethics of Elfland”)
The eternal appetite of infancy. That craving to revel in wonder and find continuous delight in the repetitive magic of life. That is what I mean by being childish and childlike. Putting away childish things doesn’t mean you burn yourself hollow of everything that makes childhood sweet. If anything, it allows you grow up enough to hold onto your childhood.