Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Being a Grownup

"In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults." -- St. Paul

What makes you a grownup? Is it about "being responsible"? Is it having a stable job? Being out of school? Not having raging keggers where you throw records down the hall? What?

When I ask myself this question, I'd like to think that I'm a grownup. However, I'm not legally responsible for anyone but myself. I'm still in school. But I haven't drunkenly thrown records for years. Of course, I've been to night clubs in San Juan, but I also hang out in places like Bethesda, Maryland and talk about math with gray haired men. But those are just things I do.

Isn't being a grownup more about attitude? More about the heart?

I think being grownup means you stop playing the "me first" game and respond to the call of love. You start assuming responsibility for the common good of those around you, especially friends and family. If you marry and have a family of your own, you then have an immediate responsibility for them.

Michael Barone has this to say about coming of age in American society:

From the age of 6 to 18, our kids live mostly in what I call Soft America--the part of our society where there is little competition and accountability. In contrast, most Americans in the 12 years between ages 18 and 30 live mostly in Hard America--the part of American life subject to competition and accountability; the military trains under live fire. Soft America seeks to instill self-esteem. Hard America plays for keeps.

I see the journey to adulthood in more spiritual terms. Think of what St. Paul says in chapter 5 of his letter to the Galations. "I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want."

Let's call the time when we are ruled by the sinful nature, "childhood". We'll know childhood by its fruits, its actions. "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like." Sounds like the standard fare at American universities. And some never grow out of it--think of all the sexual and financial scandals, the worship of the body, the racial and religious hatred, the drug and alcohol abuse. "I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." Yeah, well, at least they'll be having fun. Right? And isn't that what it's all about?

If you answer that in the affirmative, you are not a grownup. And I hope you are not placed in a position of public trust until you are one.

And there is of course hope that you can become one. We needn't stay ruled by the sinful nature forever. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to guide us to all truth. And the Spirit transforms our base nature into something extraordinary, like a withered tree that suddenly springs to life, bursting with fruit. "[T]he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." These are the characteristics of a mature person.
"Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires." The mature person still has passions and desires, just not those of the sinful nature.

As Paul says elsewhere, "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. . . . Brothers, stop thinking like children." When it's time to grow up, we put the former ways behind us and don't look back. There is much more ahead. So let the journey begin.


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