What was the moment that you grew up? No, not when puberty hit, or when you reached those milestones like confirmation or turning 21; rather, when did you know that you could never think like a child again?
A friend of mine who is a psychologist claims that the moment you grow up is the very moment when you realize your own mortality. That totally makes sense! Hang around the cancer ward of a children’s hospital and you will meet some of the most mature people in the world. While that is a big part of maturing, there is another element to making the transition to adulthood. True maturity comes when you also accept humility, understanding that you are not always right or don't have the ultimate perspective on the world.
In other words, maturity is recognizing that things existed before you and will exist when you are gone, and most importantly, that the world does not revolve around you. Most of us experience this sometime in our teen years, but we all can think of adults who never reach this point in life.
Although one's immaturity is accepted while one is chronologically young, there comes a point where our immaturity can get in the way of being a Christian because we never come to accept that God has a path for us that is not always the one we seek for ourselves. Without putting our priorities in the right place, we risk a faith that cannot withstand the struggles and suffering of life.
A big part of the Gospels is the story of how Jesus is preparing the disciples for both their ministry and for maintaining their faith in the midst of the struggles that life was going to put before them. I like to think of this time the disciples had with Christ as analogous to the maturation that happens for most people through their teenage years. As the disciples are journeying with Christ, they are also coming to the realization that the world does not revolve around them.
One of the most blatant places we find this is in Mark 8:31-38, when at one point, Jesus tells Peter, “Get behind me, Satan.” In a very blunt way, Jesus is telling Peter to grow up already. Peter needs to let go of his fear of suffering and accept that it is unavoidable and good, otherwise he won’t be able to fulfill the ministry he is called to do. Moreover, he needs to begin thinking of what is really important: to let go of ego and accept his place in the greater story of faith.
It makes me think about when I was on my mission to the Sisseton Reservation in South Dakota. I was very aware of my mortality, but it was there where I learned humility. This was the summer before college, and my church sent me proclaiming that I was going to make a difference in the lives of the people out there. I didn’t really accomplish that, and that was OK. As one of the elders of the reservation put it, they were doing a mission on me. They wanted to help me to understand their culture and their ways, so that I would be able to share their story with others about learning compassion over hate and acceptance over judgment.
There is nothing like being surrounded by a very different culture to make you take stock of your arrogance. Like Peter, I spent much of that mission trip learning how to be understanding of the things I know nothing about and open to the work of the Lord. There were many times I heard Jesus in my head, telling me to get behind him. And when I did, I always learned something new. Needless to say, I grew up a lot that summer.
For us, as it was for the disciples, it is hard to let go of our arrogance in thinking that knowledge we possess is universal and always correct. Jesus is continually trying to get Peter to understand the importance of letting go of what he thinks he knows and to begin to listen to Him. In the same way, that is what I had to do in Sisseton. I had to let go of what I knew and accept that people think differently from me, and that is not wrong but rather a blessing and life-altering change.
As we continue this Lenten journey, I ask you to continue to think about what you believe and understand. Ask yourself if you have a mature faith open to Christ or if you are still in the place where you know the right and only way. If you still cling to your ego, ask yourself how that’s working for you and, more importantly, how is that working in our other call as Christians to build up the body of Christ?
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen