I suspect it is a nearly universal phenomenon—we look in the mirror and wonder what happened. We are no longer what we once were. Worse still, we don’t recognize ourselves in what we have become. When we are young, we look upon adults with wonder. They seem to us, as children, like a different order of being. They go to bed when they wish. They need not ask permission before eating a cookie, or three. They are utterly uninterested in the important things—baseball cards, breakfast cereal, and Saturday-morning cartoons.
I just assumed that the transformation would not just be sudden, but unmistakable, that there was some switch that at some point would be flipped and I would turn into one of these strange creatures. Before I knew it, I was looking at an old man in the mirror, but somehow the switch never got flipped.
It’s true enough that I went through sundry rites of passage. I wed a wife, took a mortgage, got an education, and worked a job. But inside, I’m still the same kid. I want to make wise decisions. I desire to handle my responsibilities. I seek to be mature in the faith. I have faced adult-sized challenges along the way and have been changed by His grace, but I am what I am.
What I have come to understand, however, is that the process of maturation not only has no switch, but it runs both ways. I need not only to grow older in the faith, but to grow younger as well. Indeed, the best sign that I am in fact growing older is that I am growing younger.
Jesus said that unless I become like a child, I will not enter the kingdom of God (Matt. 18:3). The spiritually mature thing to do is to believe my elder Brother. My dear wife, during her battle with leukemia, came to understand this well. While the illness and its treatment ravaged her body, she did not so much wither away as begin to blossom. She was leaving the Shadowlands, on the road to the mountain of the brightness of life. Her life was not a long journey toward death—her death was a long journey toward life. When she crossed through the veil, even as she awaits the resurrection, she became what she is now—young and carefree. No more surgeries. No more chemo. No more radiation. No more tubes and masks and hospital gowns. Young as she had never been before, young like Eve on her first day.
And we, if we are in Christ, will one day be the same. When I was a child, I did not worry about what I would eat. I went to bed every night quite confident that my parents would be able to provide for my meals. I did not worry about what I would wear (though, given that I grew up in the ‘70s, perhaps I should have) but woke every morning confident that my parents would be able to provide clothes. When I took on adult responsibilities, when I established my own home and was blessed with my own children to feed and clothe, I did not cease to be a child. By His grace, I have a heavenly Father. And He is fabulously wealthy, owning not just the cattle on a thousand hills but the hills themselves.
The message, however, isn’t merely, “Don’t worry about that stuff. Your Father in heaven has it covered.” Instead, the command is to seek first the kingdom of God. In one sense, our anxiety ought to increase. Food and clothes, for most of us anyway, are rather easy things tocomeby. It is for most of us a small job to secure them. But the kingdom of God? That’s important, big, and not so easy to come by. From this perspective, Jesus is telling us to put down our toys and grow up, to leave the petty and the ephemeral for the weighty and the eternal. That’s all true.
But the same Jesus who told us to put away our childish things that we might pursue His kingdom also tells us that the only way to find it is to have the eyes of a child. We find our way to the kingdom less by the adult work of mapping and climbing and carrying and struggling and more by resting. The kingdom is found, maturity is reached, when we realize our utter dependence on His grace, not when we manfully make our way but when we ask Him, again by His grace, if He would carry us.
As He carries us, He washes us. He scrapes away the barnacles of our cynicism, scrubs away the stains of our self-sufficiency. And like the strange case of Benjamin Button, with each day we grow older we grow younger, cleaner, purer. This is the path He has laid before us. We traverse it less like heroic explorers and more like a child frolicking in the Hundred Acre Wood.
I remembered this the day my wife went on to her reward. While I looked down upon Denise’s lifeless body that morning, she was not looking down on me. She was instead dancing to Him and for Him. When I was praying for strength, she was singing from her strength. As I was bent and broken, she twirled and pirouetted. As I became so much less, she became so much more. This is His plan and His promise. In her wisdom, Denise is now my older sister. In her innocence, she is now Jesus’ little sister.
A day will come when I will do the same, when I will be the same. I, too, will be young like I have never been before, young like Adam on his first day.