It’s a momentous week for me. I have a birthday coming up, and it’s not just any ol’ number. I’m about to cross what I have always considered the threshold of old age. I’ve been asking myself for awhile if I have found any advantages in getting older, besides cheaper meals at Perkin’s Restaurant.
I remember my grandfather saying to me multiple times when I was a boy, “Jeff, don’t ever grow old.” This bit of advice was given as he groaned and struggled to get himself out of a chair. Even as a child, I wondered what the options were. Did I have a choice? Aging didn’t and still doesn’t seem to get much positive press. Using the word “old” has become a guaranteed way to insult those with lines around their eyes or gray trimming their temples. Unless you’re a bottle of wine, it’s typically the last thing you want to be called.
“Mature” is now a nice euphemism that doesn’t sound so harsh. But this can be a bit confusing. To be a mature adult can mean a lot of different things. I recently ran across a list of five aspects of maturity:
So, if I’m called a mature man (using the euphemistic term for aging), does that mean I have developed fully in most or all of these five ways? I think almost everyone would agree that the answer is a resounding NO. A long life does not necessarily equal full development of any of these aspects except for maybe the physical part. According to a saying I heard years ago, “Youth is fleeting, but immaturity can last a lifetime.”
Growing Old with Jesus
My greatest concern now is to grow old while becoming a mature follower of Jesus. And if that does not automatically happen simply by aging, what do I need to do to pursue maturity?
I could write out a list of biblical references that reflect what a mature follower of Jesus should look like. Actually, I’m sure someone else has already done that, so you might try Googling it. What comes to my mind is something that is counterintuitive, and we don’t usually think of when discussing Christian growth.
More and more I am convinced that a mature Jesus follower becomes more like a child. Jesus said it this way, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3 NIV).
A mandate for entering God’s kingdom? Sounds pretty important. But how?
I’m confident that there are things children do that Jesus was not calling us to emulate, like throwing tantrums when we don’t get what we want, or refusing to share a favorite toy. Yet there are qualities that children display that we adults struggle greatly with. Here are the top three childlike characteristics that Jesus might have had in mind when He made the above statement to His disciples.
Focused on True Maturity
If I am to be God’s child and a citizen of His Kingdom for all eternity, there are qualities I must possess for the long haul. Jesus said I need to learn them from a toddler, not from a trained theologian, a pastor, or even a very smart person. If I expect that growing old and accumulating experience will naturally give me what I need to navigate eternity, I’m likely heading in the wrong direction.
The longer I live, the more opportunities I have to take on offenses. It is commonly understood even in the medical community that accumulated unforgiveness is unhealthy for my body. And psychologists tell me that it will corrode my mental health. I need to be more like a child and learn to release my offenses so that I can grow old with grace.
The angry, bigoted, crotchety old man who has isolated himself from everything and everybody who doesn’t agree with him is a classic stereotype. But it is a real danger for anyone who spends enough time walking this earth. I need to be more like a child, embracing those who are different, forgiving and even loving those who have hurt me, and affirming the value of those I believe to be wrong. It’s possible to grow old and be at peace, enjoying diverse and healthy relationships.
There is no more fundamental element to following Jesus than trust. Trusting Him. I have to let go of my own sophisticated understanding, rely on what He has done to redeem me, and rest in hope for the future He has promised. And as I become more childlike, I find it easier to surrender every aspect of my life — past, present, and future — to God. It then becomes more natural to trust the people He has brought into my life. Children are the stars here. I want to develop the maturity to trust like a child does.
Always More to Learn
I will soon be staring at six decades worth of candles. It’s a good time to evaluate what’s been shaping me and where I’m heading. Whereas the surrounding culture tells me that ease and self-centered living are now what mature people are expected to focus on, I hear Jesus saying something different: “Become more like a child, Jeff. Forgive, embrace, trust and become a truly mature son of your Heavenly Father.”
To be truly mature will be my prayer as I blow out all those flaming sticks of wax.