Not Just a Number

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It is a normal process to grow. As children grow older, we often celebrate the passage of another year of a life that was lived – another year of a life where we celebrate milestones in growth. With children, we often note the physical changes of growth as their bodies mature towards adulthood, and then we often celebrate new accomplishments in physical, intellectual or social abilities.

When the physical process of children maturing into adults is a visible process, we usually take the time to also note the more invisible but measurable aspects of maturity: physical growth can be measured in bodily changes, intellectual growth can be measured in academic accomplishments; emotional or social growth can be measured by notable changes in behavior. However, once children legally reach adulthood and the easily visible changes in physical growth stop occurring, the measurable milestones become fewer and so do the celebrations. It is then, that the less easily measurable processes of growth and maturity can become ignored. We may pay attention to some landmarks like graduating, getting married, having kids, or buying a house but they don’t truly signify increasing maturity.

Because we have difficulties in adulthood in trying to measure intellectual, emotional, social or spiritual maturity, it is hard to set goals that will mark our journey into maturity. Because we have not, as a culture, a clearly articulated set of standards or values to mark maturity, our popular culture substitutes other values like sexual freedom or personal autonomy. I would suggest that we have some possible markers of maturity listed here: http://www.emotionallyhealthy.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Session-7-Grow-into-an-Emotionally-Mature-Adult.pdf, http://www.rogerkallen.com/how-to-become-emotionally-mature/, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/artificial-maturity/201211/the-marks-maturity

In the meanwhile, having no culture-wide agreed-upon set of goals for maturity, but having instead a desire to avoid the frailties of “growing old,” we have instead become a culture that celebrates youth.  Becoming old is seen as the loss of functionalities, bodies and minds that don’t perform like they used to, while youth is seen as vigorous and desirable. This is happening even though the large baby-boom population is entering the senior years because our popular culture values youthful vigor over maturity. Wisdom isn’t sexy. Since our popular culture esteems youth over maturity, it sees only the downside of aging. This leads some people to regard age as “just a number,” sometimes ignoring birthday celebrations because there are no goals for maturity lying ahead to be celebrated.

In the meantime, I would suggest that we broaden our viewpoint on aging and open our imaginations. It is normal for living things on this “old earth” to grow. What do you suppose that means for us when this world “passes away” and we find ourselves living on the new earth? If living means growing, how shall we then grow? What does it mean for us, whether on the old or the new earth, to become more like Christ? Won’t that be an eternal goal, to grow in maturity, becoming more like the one in whose image we are made?

I have to admit, that I sometimes wonder if another year older means another year wiser. Each year I seem to increasingly find that I rather need to hold my supposed wisdom lightly. And yet, I think that our birthdays as adults can become more than a marker of time passed. Maybe we should be more diligent about finding ways to discover in what ways our maturity has increased. In the meantime, let us celebrate, whether young or old, another year of becoming more like Him in whose image we are made. For indeed, in the end, by His grace the Lord will fulfill his purpose for us (Psalm 57:2).

 

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