All of this blather about growing old and growing up, advancing from immaturity to maturity, and talking to the imaginary old man in the mirror may miss an important mark in human development. The folks over in the psychology department remind us that we all have a resident inner child that keeps life interesting. Yes, this concept is a matter of much debate and is far above my pay-grade as a discussion point. How this inner child influences our adult life is questionable for sure. But, it must be real. I mean, who doesn't revel in some silliness along the way or stare in wonderment at the incredible handiwork of life around us? The old man staring at me in the mirror on January 1 may have had a glint in his eyes. It may have been his inner child poking some subtle fun at mine.
There's more to this inner child thing that the discovery of our authentic self, the person we like to keep hidden from probing eyes or critical people. Growing old and growing up may discipline us to lay aside our childish ways. The pursuit of maturity must compel us beyond the emotional control buttons of childhood. Get serious for a minute. Who wants to deal with the tantrums and moodiness of our early years, the momentary whims that move us close or far away from others, the attention disorders that limit our comprehension, the self that dominates just about everything. Becoming an adult, that is, growing old and growing up, means that the antics of childhood are left back there with Sponge Bob, or, in my case, Howdy Doody. Being adult about life is an important transition point. Childish isn't a label many of us want to wear in our careers, or marriages, or relationships, or anything. To grow old and grow up are life goals most of us will pursue with vigor because we don't want anyone to think we are childish. The boardroom or the corner office or church aren't playrooms, BTW.
Then, there's what Jesus said. His disciples struggled with and argued about which of them would be greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. Even in the early first century these men were gripped with a competitive edge that placed them in a contest for Jesus' favor and a prominent place in the final accounting of all things. It was the backdrop of several of their most heated discussions and our Lord's most profound teaching. Who would be greatest in his Kingdom? Jesus gave them several responses to this question. One involved their understanding of servant-hood. Jesus told them the greatest in the Kingdom would be their servant (see Matthew 23:11, NIV). Evidently he wanted them to know that their calling wasn't to be the high and mighty in the world but to occupy the place of servant in it. Yes, he is our model and he came to serve rather than be served (see Matthew 20: 28). It was an important lesson that would do us good to know in this world of need.
There's more. On another day they questioned him about who would be greatest in the Kingdom. Matthew recorded the event---
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of
heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say
to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of
heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of
heaven.“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes
one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great
millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
Matthew 18: 1-6, ESV
Maybe this was the glint in the old man's eyes on January 1, 2019! According to Jesus there are traits of childhood that should accompany us throughout life, even as we grow old and grow up. What are they? Innocence? Wonder? Simplicity? Trust? Humility? The capacity to believe? Oh me. Count the number of sermons preached on this topic---the greatest in the Kingdom of God. How human of us!!! To debate and argue about who will occupy the most honored places in the hierarchy of heaven is perhaps the most convincing evidence of our egocentric nature. When they wanted to know the answer, Jesus showed them a child.
But, Jesus clarified it more than a reference to childhood, the traits of a child. Dr. Luke wrote an addendum that clarifies the definition of child to a greater degree. Jesus added---
For whoever is least among you all is the greatest. Luke 9:48, ESV
That's the thing about being a child. With the heart of a child you are the least in the human schemata. And, that is significant placement for us mortals. To honestly know where we fit in the greater scheme of things is a significant mile marker in this journey. God loves us and sent his son Jesus to die for us. Still, without him we can do nothing (see John 15:5, ESV). When I see myself as the least of these, I am positioned to understand the blessings and joys of being a child.
Yes, that old geezer staring at me in the mirror had a glint in his eyes on New Year's day. He was challenging me to grow old, and to grow up, but to cling to that part of my inner child that would give me the capacity to be least.
It's a quibble on my part. But, this means something profound. I must learn how to be child-like, and not childish. Mmmmmm...