Maturing Gracefully

Growing Up

As a young father, I was rather excited by the future. If our daughters would have been true to their dreams, we would have a waitress, a lawyer, a nurse, a teacher, a ballet dancer, a professional singer, a police officer, a doctor, a celebrated author, a painter, a fireman, a minister, a flight-crew attendant, a pilot, an astronaut, an actress, a homemaker, and a professional soccer player in our family. Moreover, such things would not have happened because our three girls would marry boys, and thus expand the number of people available for all these careers. After all, at the time they knew that they did not like boys. All these occupations emerged as hopes and wishes and goals of our three. I couldn’t wait to have daughters who will care for us, teach us, entertain us, support us, help us travel, serve us and clean up after us! It would be sort of like having Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, the Hardy Boys, Harry Potter, Supergirl and Buckaroo Bonsai wrapped up together in three wonderful persons!

We have all played the game “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It is fun when we are children, but it begins to lose its delight as we grow older and still are not sure that we have chosen well or wisely. Our daughters used to envy grown ups because we could do, in their words, “anything you want!” How little they knew of the restrictions that hemmed us in with greater grip than any childhood prison.


Lost Childhood

Roy Drusky sang of that lost innocence years ago in a reflection he called Long, Long Texas Road: “I’ve been up and I’ve been down,” he crooned. “I’ve worked the fields, I’ve plowed the ground. I’ve borne the strain and pressure till I thought I might explode. Now I search for childhood days of model ships and rocket planes, when the days stretched out before me like a long, long Texas road.”

His refrain was a whimsical reminiscence:

Oh, that long, long Texas road’s about a million miles or so…

When you’re just a child there ain’t no time but now.

Must have lost that long old road seven hundred years ago,

And I’d find it once again if I knew how.

I’ve often felt, with Drusky, that I’ve missed something along the way and I would like to retrace my steps now and again in order truly to find myself. Yet, with him, I know that God gives us only one chance to walk through time. We may delight in trying to find something of Peter Pan in our hearts, and steal away in daydream moments to Neverland in our playful thoughts. But time marches forward, not back, and age requires of us something that we may not grab hold on willfully.

Still, there is a difference between growing older and growing up. Growing older changes our bodies, while sometimes leaving our personalities underdeveloped and childish. Years ago Dutch pastor Cornelis Gilhuis penned a little book of meditations called Conversations on Growing Older (Eerdmans, 1977) to encourage maturity along with advancing age. He spoke sharply to those who become crotchety and cantankerous in their senior years, and gently encouraged the deeper adult expressions of peace and patience and piety. Maturity, he said, does not always pair itself with age.


Reaching for God

Mark Twain wrote that when he was fourteen he thought his father was an idiot. “But when I turned twenty-one,” he added, “I was amazed at how much the old man had learned in seven years!” Obviously Twain himself had learned a thing or two by that time. One hopes we all will learn such things as time goes by.

The strangest thing about maturity is that it sneaks up on us best when we don’t pursue it overmuch. We can do little about age, but maturity comes quickest to those who do not wrestle it down. Malcolm Muggeridge said it beautifully in his own reflections on growing old. He told of nights when he found himself in bed, yet somehow suspended between this world and the next, sensing that things glow with the lights of Augustine’s City of God. His thoughts in that moment of quiet harmony were not about himself, he said, but rather about how wonderful it was to be alive and to know that all things come together and find their purpose in the hand of God.

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