As a child, I spent my share of time in the local ER getting fixed up, to the point that my parents claim the staff knew me on sight. I was one part fearless and one part stupid… but the end result was always the same: more stitches!
In spite of multiple childhood injuries, it was my plan to never grow up. I’ve consumed 156 oz of slurpee in a single day, have watched the extended editions of the Lord of the Rings as a marathon, and I once took my wife on a date to Chuckie Cheese (this was before we had kids). In the words of Mark Hart, my ambition has been to ‘grow old without ever growing up.’ This is why youth ministry may be the perfect job for me, as it’s allowed me to (mostly) avoid growing up.
Recently, I’ve come to realize that I may be losing this battle. My first hint came on the day I moved in to my first apartment. While it was a nice enough place (with a fantastic roommate) the realization that I was now responsible to purchase my own groceries and things like toilet paper was crushing. Over the last dozen years, slurpees have turned into coffee, wearing geeky t-shirts to work has turned to button up shirts, and somehow I had time to have 5 kids & get a master’s degree.
While it’s clear I’ve grown up more than I ever wanted to, it’s not because of any of that: there are two more dramatic reasons.
The first is that I’ve started to go to the hospital on a regular basis again. But instead of being there to treat the wounds of childhood ignorance, I’m visiting others who are sick and suffering various dramatic ailments. After learning of his terminal diagnosis (osteosarcoma), Zach Sobiech a 17-year-old from Minnesota said:
I think every teenager out there feels invincible and they’ll never admit it. It’s not the kind of invincible like superman. It’s the kind of invincible like, ‘I’ll see you in five months.’ I thought I was invincible. I was ready for college pretty much and I was planning out way ahead and it turns out sometimes you can’t do that.
I can appreciate where he’s coming from. I didn’t attend a funeral until I turned 19 -and now, I’ve lost count of how many I’ve attended. I’ve come to realize that life is so very precious, and that it isn’t just other people who have to deal with these sorts of tragedies. Neither you, I, nor anyone we care about is actually invincible. And this has been a “grown-up” discovery because not only am I concerned (and praying) for those already fighting these battles, I’m worried for who might get the next dose of bad news.
Second, there are lots of days that it seems like the world around us is going crazy. When I consider the ways that common sense can be tossed aside in favor of politics, a seemingly unending cycle of violence (which this week brought us the brutal murder of a Fr. Jacques Hamel), poverty, and disease. While our faith has many answers to all of these questions, most people don’t want to hear them- and some even take offense when we try to explain. I fear for my future, I fear for our faith… but most of all, I fear for my children and the world they’ll inherit from us.
To make a long story short – I’m feeling a lot more grown up these days because I’m worried. I’m worried and anxious about many things (see Luke 10:41): my own health, the health of others, and all of our futures. This seems to be the polar opposite of my young, fearless self who spent so many hours in the ER getting stitched up.
In a 2012 speech written for the Defending the Faith conference at Franciscan University, Archbishop Robert Carlson gave a great reply to my “grown up worrying:
“Where will this all end up? If we hold the faith, and if we study the history of the faith, we know how this game ends. In the words of the hymn:
Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat! (Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ rules!)
Remember that earthly victory is not the key for us. Fidelity to Jesus Christ is the key. He has already won the victory. Our job is to fight on his side, in his way. What comes of that … we leave in his hands. He will give us the victory in his own time and in his own way—either through the conversion of those who oppose the Gospel, or through the Cross for us. Either way, we need not be anxious about the outcome. Don’t let anxiety or hysteria infect your words. Just bear witness to Him.“
I can’t stop myself from growing old and, much to my chagrin, I can’t completely stop myself from growing up either. It’s happening. But it doesn’t mean I need to worry – in fact, St. Paul says I shouldn’t worry at all (Phillipians 4:6). And the answer can probably be found in my desire not to grow up. The difference is that Jesus didn’t ask me to be childish but childlike (Matthew 18:3), He isn’t concerned with slurpees or some false bravado while riding your bike at the age of ten. The childlike piece we all need to hold on to, as Archbishop Carlson has so eloquently stated, is a closeness to God – a trust in the steady hands of our Father who has won the final victory over everything we could possibly worry about.