Fr Jim Cogley
Adulthood is something that can be defined in so many different ways. Society grants us legal status at eighteen and this becoming legal leads many young people to believe that they have arrived. Adulthood is a watershed moment in our lives when we believe we have grown up. We measure it in terms of our ability to think more for ourselves, with being more independent and with being legally responsible for our actions. Its also supposed to be the time when our lives are more stable, when we have greater control of our emotions and when we can be more objective about seeing things as they really are. To truly be an adult is to have given up childish ways. Or at least that’s the theory.
On a few occasions Christ spoke of the need to become childlike in order to enter into Kingdom living and he was not talking about the afterlife. There’s a world of a difference between being childish and becoming childlike.
The assumption that when we reach a particular age we put away childish ways should not be made too quickly. The legal age is no determinant of adulthood. Many never grow up and hold on to childish ways for a lifetime. One woman said to her friend that when she got married she was duped. She thought she was getting married to her husband while in fact she was only fostering him; she had taken over where his mother had left off. After just six months he began to call her Mam and then she knew she was in trouble! Sometimes it’s as if the child just puts on adult clothes and then as the old saying goes ‘the main difference between men and boys is the price of their toys’.
For so many, infant whining just gives way to a more sophisticated form of complaining. Some even become serial complainers like the lady on a cruise ship who was invited to the
Captain’s Table. She turned to her husband and asked, after spending so much money on the cruise, why did they have to end up dining with the crew! A stubborn child can so easily become an adult who is set in his ways. A needy little child often becomes a needy adult who wants to be taken care of and then spends her time wondering why others keep their distance. Even the wild impulses of youth may not dissipate but take the form of addictions later in life. If being reasonable and logical is part of being an adult the people of Nazareth were very childish when they wanted to throw Jesus off a cliff just because they had issue with what he said in a sermon.
One of the things St Paul does in his letter to the Corinthians is to make a close connection between love and being an adult. Perhaps the very best ways we can examine how adult we have become, and to what extent we have given up childish ways, is to reflect on the quality of our love.
Possibly the finest statement on adult love ever written was by St Paul when he wrote:
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. What he says in just a few lines is more than a mouthful and a great way to measure just how adult we really are.
So to conclude with a few thoughts:
It is childish to blame others for how we feel. It is adult to take responsibility.
It is childish to be jealous and possessive. Adult love always gives freedom.
It is childish to be bitter and resentful. It is adult to practice forgiveness.
It is childish not to talk to someone. It is adult to want to sort things out.
It is childish to want to be right. It is adult to want to be in relationship.
It is childish to complain about what you don’t have. It is adult to be grateful.
It is childish to focus on getting. It is adult to focus on what I can give.
So how adult am I really?