You know that really awkward time between childhood and adulthood? Where you are suddenly gripped by this strange need to “be” someone or something else?
Being a kid is easy. You are you. You don’t have to think about being you, you just are.
Then puberty hits, and you don’t feel like ‘you’ anymore. You start thinking new thoughts and experiencing odd feelings… You aren’t quite ready to part with your stuffed animals, but you wouldn’t be caught dead outside of the house sans make-up (this may not apply to my male readers, but if it does, I don’t judge).
Holding the attention of the opposite sex (or the same sex for that matter) becomes your sole purpose in life. And you cannot go anywhere without at least one trusted friend along. Only losers are seen out in public alone…
Overnight, your parents went from being gods, to being a total embarrassment. No one can possibly understand you anymore… Except, maybe the band Nirvana.
Remember the good old days of teendom?
I hated being a teen. I don’t know if anyone looks back at those years with enough fondness to want to relive them. But it was an important time in our human lives. It was the time we transitioned from being blissfully happy making mudpies, to taking on the sobering realities of student loan debt and fleshing out our Curriculum Vitae.
In a spiritual sense, many of us do not grow out of childhood in this life. Jesus loves us, and we love Him, and life is good. Woohoo! It’s communion Sunday today! Yusssss!!
While all start as children in the Kingdom of Heaven, our stumbling into the Kingdom is only the beginning!
“For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
I Corinthians 13:9-12 (NRSV, boldface mine)
If we think we’ve ‘arrived’ spiritually with our first taste of the Kingdom (like, um, 20 year-old me), you’re going to have a bad time.
I remember the first time I felt the “Divine Illumination” of the Spirit. It was amazing!! I was just reading my Bible, minding my own business, when BOOM! I was transported to another world pregnant with meaning too lofty to be parsed back into mere words. I don’t know how many times I read the New Testament the following summer… Like, 50? I couldn’t get enough!! God’s Word was lifted off the page and placed squarely on my heart, without the addition of my own effort (well, I guess reading is effort…).
After the newness wore off a bit, I realized that, this is just how it’s going to be from now on. And being the petulant adolescent I was (eh, still am) I’m all like “Next!”
Then there was the time I first realized I had yet another super-power. My gift of discernment gave me new insight into the inner lives of those who spoke with me. Eventually, I could pick up on spiritual conflicts or gifts just by walking past someone. Or by reading their blogs. (Just kidding… Or, am I?)
And with the addition of every new spiritual skill, it became increasingly more difficult for me to understand the breadth of my own experience. I no longer felt like my carefree self. I felt like two different people, torn in two opposite directions.
While we are justified by grace through faith, all of the baptized have vestiges of the ‘old man’ (Adam) while being made further into the likeness of the ‘new man’ that is Christ. Our two natures are constantly at war with each other…until the ‘new man’ claims enough ground to bind and gag the ‘old man’ into total submission.
Doesn’t this two natures thing sound a lot like the experience of adolescence?
While we may no longer be spiritual children, we have yet to reach completeness in His perfection. We may discover new skills and interests, but we aren’t quite willing to part with the old and familiar ways of the world. Some days we ride the highs of being chosen by God. Yet, some days we bemoan the loss of our spiritual naivety and wish to once again be ignorant of the full extent of our own sinfulness.
Why is it that the more we are made into His likeness, and the longer we walk with Him, the less worthy we feel? It’s kind of like knowing everything there is to know at age 10, only to learn how little you actually understand by age 30. It’s a strange paradox!
Take prayer for example, at the beginning of our faith journey we prayed for anything and everything. All of our human desires made it into our morning prayers. Then, later on, we forget to ‘bother’ God with our mere human requests. Not out of laziness, or lack of zeal, but because God has always given us exactly what we need, when we’ve needed it, and His provision always proves to suit our situation better than anything we’ve thought to ask Him for.
Besides, when you already have the Holy Spirit, what more is there to ask for?
That’s the thing, although we are inching ever closer to Eternity, we have yet to truly ‘arrive’. We still live in this perfectly imperfect world along with death, disease, war, and abuse. It’s far too easy to fall back on our human understanding and go back to the kind of panic one would expect from a child. And don’t feel bad if you find yourself curled up in a corner, sucking your thumb while rocking rhythmically back and forth….
It is hard to live in this inbetween.
When God sees everything in our hearts, it’s ok to admit that we aren’t feeling especially wise, or faithful or loving at the moment. To pretend otherwise, in my opinion, is a more grievous sin than venting our own teenage angst.
Some of the most passionate music, the most moving literature, was penned in venting some of the angst of living inbetween.
We all know we feel strangely compelled to “be” perfect as Christians… But, in this life, human perfection is to Christ’s perfection as teenage flirtation is to 50 years of solid marriage. Not even close to being the same.
If we learned any important life lessons from our own experience of human adolescence, it should be that when you know everyone else around you is pretending to be something they’re not, you no longer have to.
So, I’ll be over here, not pretending and wearing my Nicorette patch in the full confidence that God loves me inspite of my adolescent guffaws….waiting for y’all to join me. And hoping you will.
Let’s let the last adolescence free us up to enjoy the fellowship of awkwardness. We may not be cool, but we’ve got Jesus!