Friday, April 15, 2011

Growing Pains: On Progression, Staying Childlike and Being Responsible



by brettmerritt (bio)

"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." - 1 Corinthians 13:11

For most of us there are a handful of moments in life that shape us, scar us, teach us, scare us and force us to move on. These moments end up shaping who we are, either for better or worse, but we move on as life does its thing.

For others, it’s not that easy. Some get stuck. This happens when a person decides (consciously or sub-consciously) not to move past something: a bad break-up, a horrible loss, a divorce, an addiction or an instance of abuse. These can all be reasons someone remains mentally in one time period while physically aging and moving through their life. It’s heartbreaking how their past can haunt them. What can be more heartbreaking is how being so focused on the past can lead to losing faith. Often they can’t stop thinking about themselves long enough to imagine something bigger than them exists and is ready to help them if they ask.

There is an opposite to this too. There are people who aren't mentally stuck on the bad that happened but, rather, seem to focus only on how good they had it when they were a kid or teenager. They want life to stay like it was forever. They refuse to work, don't like having a job, joke all the time, care too much about what people think and generally think the best time of their life was from the age of twelve to nineteen. I think we've been around that person who’s a kid in a thirty-something's body. "But they are so fun and carefree! I would love to have some of that back," you might say. Well, of course we admire it. We remember how it was too. But retaining a fun sense of life and always being a kid are two different things.

So, between these two traits, we have people who can’t move beyond their past and people who relish reliving it while putting off the present. Admittedly, I have experienced versions of both of these traits.

Sometimes I dwell too much on what’s already happened. I can get mini-stuck by viewing either longingly or regrettably on the past. This can lead to putting off the unknown of the future because sometimes the future is damn scary. But, unless I really deal with the stuff that's sticky, recognize it and truly let it go, I don't think I’d have much of a chance to progress. It’s a reason why every step of repentance is important, not just the “don’t do it again” part.

Other times, I confuse being childlike with flat out acting like a child. I love video games. I love laughing really really loud at things I think are funny. I like to win arguments. I play tag. I tell poop jokes. I enforce the “whoever smelt it, dealt it” law. I tease my kids, at times, like they are my younger siblings rather than little beings who are supposed to learn to look up to me because I make great choices.

So I’m not at all perfect. But we have to be responsible. There it is. The buzz kill word. Responsible.

Responsibility is what keeps many of us from saving up money, ditching our life and moving to Costa Rica. It’s the glue that keeps us sticking to a career path instead of working at a banana stand even though that would be more fun. It’s the side of broccoli with the macadamia nut encrusted salmon. It’s the bread that keeps us from rising too high and making up too many analogies.

So how can we be responsible and still be fun? Balance. It's good to think about and learn from our past, about how it has shaped us. And, at the same time, we have to retain parts of our childhood and childlike qualities like innocence, trust and spontaneity. In fact, it’s the balance of these things can make us terrific parents. We can be responsible and still be fun to be around. It’s that balance I’m looking for and hope to find as I make my way through it all, wide-eyed and wondering.

So what do you do to keep a healthy balance of fun and responsibility? What are some things you have a hard time letting go of? Is Growing Pains one of the best sit-coms of the 80s?

"If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older." - Tom Stoppard

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