|Photo by Sojourn Photography|
I wish growing up was as simple as stepping out of one pair of shoes and into the next but more often than not growing up is a lot more complicated than going from a smaller to a larger size. The hardest part of growing up, for me at least, is realizing I have outgrown things. As children we outgrew our clothes, our shoes, our beds. And everything we outgrew had to be replaced with things that fit. There were many dresses I laid aside, handed down to my younger sister or donated to Salvation Army with a twinge of remorse. That dress was my favorite and I hated being suddenly too tall and lanky for it. Then there was my childish nature. I remember my friends and I promised to one another we would always play pretend and would never grow boring like our older sisters who simply sat around and talked with their friends. But one day we couldn’t play pretend anymore. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to. We had simply outgrown that world. It didn’t fit anymore.
As adults we stop growing physically (well, for the most part). Growing is less dramatic and eventually turns into more deteriorating than growing. Currently, I am wearing the same shirts, skirts, dresses and shoes I wore six years ago. I like being an adult because my favorite pairs of shoes from 2009 are still my favorite pairs of shoes today. My beloved black vintage heels are worn, scuffed and now in need of repair but they still fit my feet nonetheless. My favorite red coat is similarly old, worn and the lining needs replacing but I intend to hang onto it as long as possible. Even though I have ceased to grow physically, I am still growing in many ways and perhaps more complicated ways than ever before. Life is still an arduous process of putting off old natures and assuming new ones or more accurately assuming the new nature I have found in Christ.
Sometimes growth happens in the subtlest of forms. I realized this at the most recent church youth retreat I attended. I went to my first youth retreat when I was fourteen years old. My three older sisters and I and several members of our local youth group all went together with a couple of the parents from our church. Now I am twenty-one years old. Most of my friends don’t come to youth retreats anymore. We’re all grown up, going to school, getting married and having all manner of grown-up adventures. We are no longer high school kids. I’m one of the old people now at youth retreats. I’m the adult driving the kids to youth retreats. The youth conferences don’t fit the way they used to. Instead of the institution wherein I am ministered to, my youth group has become an institution wherein I have the opportunity to minister to others (and still be ministered to).
The same goes for the church. My function in my local congregation has changed as I have grown. I am an independent member of my congregation. When I meet with my leaders and elders, my parents aren’t with me. I tithe my own income. I teach a Sunday school class. As a child the church was primarily a resource for me but now as I grow older I am realizing I have to be one of the contributors, not simply a receiver. I knew this the day I took my vows when I was thirteen years old, when I promised to encourage and support my fellow brothers and sisters Christ. I knew this intellectually but had no idea what it meant practically. It’s like having a loose tooth for the first time. No child actually knows what happens and how it feels until their first tooth starts to wiggle and eventually falls out. And this is the scariest part of all, isn't it?
Maybe you were one of those brave children, but I remember always cringing whenever my father told me my tooth was ready to come out. “I can pull it out right now, if you like,” he would say. I would usually shake my head in fear. “I don’t think it’s ready to come out yet,” I told him. This is the story of my life. Why is it always so hard to let go?
“That tooth is too small for your mouth. Time for the big adult teeth.”
“But I don’t think I’m ready.”
One of the most painful dental experiences I ever had involved a baby molar which refused to come out of my mouth. The adult molar grew in underneath it, pushing the baby tooth aside at a painful angle. Still the baby molar would not so much as come loose. Eventually I had to go to the dentist and have it pulled. Six shots to the mouth. The dentist grunting and straining, reaching for larger and larger tools. Me trying to fumble my thanks with a numb face and cotton between my teeth. I feel like this is a pretty accurate analogy of me. I want to hold onto things I have outgrown, cling to them, until it’s too late and all that is left to be done is fetch the pliers and painfully extract the stubborn tooth. I guess if there’s one thing I have learned over the last couple of years it is that growth is inevitably painful. Change hurts. Overturning your life, putting away the old for the sake of the new is never easy. But it’s so much worse if we dig in our heels, refuse to move and try to shove our feet into shoes that just won’t fit anymore.
Right now I am anticipating a year of a whole lot of growing, a whole lot of change and uprooting. My oldest sister got engaged about a month ago. I could not be more happy and excited. I can’t wait to have Chris as a brother (he practically already is) and to see how God continues to grow our family. But at the same time it’s sad. Life won’t be the same. Libby, Ruth and I won’t be living in a house together, this house that has become our home, this house where these young ladies have become my dearest friends. I could dig in my heels. I could be spiteful and resentful toward God. I could try to hold onto what God is asking me to give up. Or I could accept it, accept the fact it is time for this tooth to come out and it is time to stop playing pretend. I am sad because growing up means losing what you once had but I am also eagerly awaiting the future because life is a grand adventure and I don’t want to miss out because of my feet of clay.
Besides, I don’t like going to the dentist.