What Does is Mean to Be an Adult?

The process of growing up is to be valued for what we gain, not for what we lose–C.S. Lewis

Yesterday I stopped to admire a tree at work.  It had a wide, short trunk that split into thick twisting branches.  It’s the kind of tree I would love to climb, except I haven’t climbed a tree for some time, with the sole the purpose of climbing.  When I was younger I used to climb trees all the time.  Tree climbing is something adults don’t do, unless it has some utilitarian purpose like trimming branches or getting an item unstuck.

There are hundreds of unspoken expectations which come with adulthood.  Which begs the question, how did they get there?  Many are reasonable, like getting a job, being financially responsible, getting married, and raising a family.  How others came to be associated with adulthood puzzles me, like not climbing trees, being goofy, or exercising your imagination.  These seem to have come about because they are normally associated with children.  I am an adult because I don’t do these childish things.  In a way these expressions of adulthood and those like them, things that are “undignified” for adults to do, are the easiest way to exhibit achievement of adulthood.  Not doing is usually easier than doing. Many activities considered beneath adults really have no ability to grant or remove adulthood.  I admit that as people grow older their interests usually change, but that just means they change, as everyone does.

Adulthood is something more than not doing certain things deemed “childish.”  It does have something to do with leaving behind, losing baby teeth, curly hair, temper tantrums, but for the purpose of adding.  We lose our baby teeth so that a permanent set of teeth can come in.  Temper tantrums disappear as a result of learning self-control.  Adulthood adds all kinds of wonderful things (and complications) to being human.  When adults spent too much time focusing on what they left behind instead of what they gain in adulthood there is a danger of becoming condescending towards childhood and in the process looking down upon some of the good aspects of childhood.

Children have an incredible sense of wonder.  Occasionally I ride the light rail train in my city.  It’s fun to watch the children ride it because they are usually excited about the chance to ride on a “train.”  To the adults it is merely a form of transportation.  To children it is much more.  That continually wonder at everything is something I hope to regain.  Life become flat, gray, and dull when we are not able to perceive the beauty God is continually renewing in the world around us, in the people, and the landscape.  It’s there; people just lose the ability to see it as they age.

Children also have an intrinsic faith that someone will care for them.  Babies and toddlers trust that when they cry someone will come.  Sometimes this results in kamikaze children leaping off heights and expecting someone to catch them.  I have encountered some jaded children that have been taught by experience not to trust anyone, but they are the exception.  As children grow they are taught by those around them and by experience to be suspicious.  Children asking why they have to do something are partly trying to figure this out.  They are discovering why it is that someone has the authority to direct them, especially to do things they don’t enjoy.  While this is helpful it can have unexpected results.  As an adult I find it is difficult to trust God.  I find this suspicion and desire for self-preservation getting in the way of my relationship with Him and others.  I envy children who are implicitly able to trust their parents to seek their own good.  Would it be so with God?  This difficultly is a natural part of growing up and being able to think independently and abstractly, something healthy and good.  Perhaps in heaven I will have the ability to think as I do now and have implicit trust in God.  Until then I can learn from children and try to regain some of that faith.

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One comment

  1. Cheryl Molstad · February 1, 2011

    I like these thoughts, Caleb. I am also trying to regain the wonder and trust of a child, even at my advanced age!

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