Thursday, May 06, 2010

Growing Up Slowly

Here’s a Twilight Zone-type premise for you. What if surgeons never got to work on humans, they were instead just endlessly in training, cutting up cadavers? What if the same went for all adults – we only got to practice at simulated versions of our jobs? Lawyers only got to argue mock cases, for years and years. Plumbers only got to fix fake leaks in classrooms. Teachers only got to teach to videocameras, endlessly rehearsing for some far off future. Book writers like me never saw our work put out to the public – our novels sat in drawers. Scientists never got to do original experiments; they only got to recreate scientific experiments of yesteryear. And so on.

Rather quickly, all meaning would vanish from our work. Even if we enjoyed the activity of our job, intrinsically, it would rapidly lose depth and relevance. It’d lose purpose. We’d become bored, lethargic, and disengaged.

In other words, we’d turn into teenagers.

Newsweek writes about a new book on the topic of teenagers and maturity.

Without painful real-life experiences, modern teens’ brains never learn to tell the difference between what they should fear and what they shouldn’t. Without real consequences and real rewards, teens never learn to distinguish between good risks they should take and bad risks they shouldn’t.

I don’t know if the article and book are right, but it is an interesting thought.

We live in a world of almost perpetual adolescence. I cringe when I hear twenty- and thirty-somethings talk about playing video games. I roll my eyes when I hear of video game tournaments in bars, knowing that the people who may (I say may not as permission but as possibility) legitimately enjoy video games are not even able to go in bars.

If only video games were the worst. This immaturity shows up in every area of life. Men and women in the middle ages of life treat spouses like high school prom dates: have a good time, “get some,” and then move on to the next person. Share your children like it’s a $1 large drink at McDonald’s. Work out the custody arrangements in such a way that you get at least every other weekend free to go out and party like you’re a child.

One of the characteristics of childhood is that children think life is about them. Parents are supposed to take care of them, provide them with food and toys, keep them from getting bored. All the toys in the room are their prerogative, and if another child has it, just take it away. Nap when you feel like it, and stay up when you feel like it. No need to take responsibility because mom will cook the food and clean it up. If you stall long enough, you won’t even have to put your toys away before bed. Mom and Dad will just get tired of fighting with you. And when you don’t get your way, make a big scene with lots of noise and angry voice tones. Mom and Dad will be shamed into compliance … or make a big scene with lots of angry voice tones.

Some kids never grow out of it. We see it with spouses who say, “If I don’t get my way, you are on your own.” Angry voices, withdrawal, and abandonment result. We see it with employees who say, “If I don’t get my way, I am not working hard.” We see it with church members who say, “If I don’t get my way, I am going to another church.”

One of the challenges of parenthood is actually raising children to be adults. I have a four-year old and a one-year old. I used to be an expert on raising children. Then I had some. Now I don’t have a clue. But in between laughing a lot and crying a lot, between the temptation to yell at them and to shut up and do it myself, I am reminded that my job is not to have a peaceful evening, or a great day, but to raise disciples of Jesus who are prepared to live the gospel in a messed-up world.

And if you are going to live the gospel in a messed up world, we are going to have to deny ourselves and grow up in a hurry.

Because if the gospel teaches me anything, it teaches me that life is not about me and my desires, but about self-denial, about working for a greater cause, about serving a greater God than the god of “my way right away.” It is about life transformed by grace.

As we approach Mother’s Day, I am reminded that moms are given great tasks. When it comes to spiritual influence, God gave men the task of teaching in the church. He said that “woman are saved through childbearing” (1 Timothy 2:15).

What did he mean? I think he meant that a woman’s way of repairing the damage of the fall takes place through her influence on her children. She was not given the task of leading the church through teaching, but of raising her children to not follow in the ways of Eve, who for the pleasure of the moment brought a world full of hurt.

Children who don’t grow up usually come from families who didn’t make them grow up. Parents raised teenagers and left them there.

I wish I had all the answers. I don’t. So I will stop talking with this final word: Let’s grow up already.


Diane Heeney said...

Excellent piece. I think your take on 1 Tim 2:15 is interesting. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

What a great post Larry! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I'm going to stop in and visit you one of these days and listen to you preach!!! Skip T