Contra our narcissistic culture, you find yourself when you find God.
The way to stand out today is this: to hunger to be mature. In a culture that has aestheticized rebellion, immaturity, and the expressive self, the way to truly march to your own beat is to pursue maturity.
Compare this statement to the findings of a new study discussed in The Telegraph. According to polling data, many twentysomethings don’t consider themselves “grown up” even after starting a family. This is startling news:
Just over one in five (22 per cent) of the 2,000 adults surveyed said that people felt mature when they had their own children, while a further fifth (21 per cent) said it was when they moved out of their parents’ home.
We’re in the age of the “Kidification” of America. We adults watch comic-book movies, wear the shorts and leggings that seven-year-olds have traditionally worn, take our favorite games with life-and-death seriousness, show up late to the functions we attend, refuse to build a vocation in order to hold a series of jobs that we never truly commit to, spend above our means and thus incur heaping debt, opt out of our commitments on a whim, snark and blurt out a constant stream of commentary on social media, narcissistically whine about how hard life is (to people whose lives are demonstrably harder than ours), and act wounded when confronted with our faults.
We can understand why this complex of trends converges in “Kidification.” We’ve grown up in a feelings-driven, truth-averse, trigger-happy culture. We’ve been told that we’re only authentically human when we “express ourselves,” whatever that means. We’ve witnessed the breakdown of the family as adults dissolve lifelong bonds over a few afternoon court dates. We’ve observed the rise of 24-hour celebrity culture, with more people than ever longing to live like Hollywood stars (who inwardly crave the normalcy they had before clawing ambition overtook them). The economy over the last century or so has thrived, and so we have a good deal of leisure time, allowing us to devote ourselves to games and hobbies.
We’re all affected by these trends, and not all of them are bad. But we cannot help but notice that we find ourselves in a culture that has rejected traditional forms of maturity. When we’re honest about ourselves, we realize: it’s not just them. We don’t know how to be mature. But this too is true: whatever our background, in some deep part of us, we don’t want to be mature.
The new man, after all, inexhaustibly craves adulthood. The natural man wants to stay young forever.
This pattern permeates the life of the local church. The life of the child is largely about me, and so is the life of the childlike church. Man, not God, is the center. The preaching is not challenging; the songs are a confusing blend of milquetoast and imponderable. We’ve never talked more about grace but less about maturity in Christ. Because the controlling concept of the church is numerical growth, preachers are scared to graciously challenge their people. The result in too many cases is a church that doesn’t grow up. Happiness and an anodyne form of spiritual health is in; holiness and a zealous pursuit of Word-driven, God-intoxicated spirituality is out. Theology is scary and makes people hurt one another’s feelings. The truth is the problem, not the solution.
The “Kidification” of our culture is affecting us all. What can we do about it?
We can all recommit to maturity. In doing so, we truly stand out. The true rebel today is not the jeans-wearing, tattooed-arms displaying, Western canon-denying individualist (who happens to snark on Twitter in lock-step with their peers). The true rebel today is the one we could call the “traditionalist conformist.” Such a person pursues adulthood, whether personally or spiritually. They do not buy the lie of “expressive individualism.” They serve others and do not draw attention to themselves. Their schedule is not ruthlessly oriented around their creature comforts, around “me time.” Instead, they find much worthy human endeavor in serving God and man in the simple things, the basic institutions of life: family, church, vocation, neighborliness, and so on.
The true rebel finds their identity in things bigger than themselves, not the same filtered version of the authentic individualist that so many of their peers also magically happen to desire. To be truly human is not to discover your deepest inner realness in the cavernous reservoirs of the self, but to see your own tiny life in terms of the grandness and greatness and significance of God.
More simply: contra our narcissistic culture, you find yourself when you find God.
Theocentricity breeds growth. It occasions the killing of sin and death to self. It springs into motion the ongoing dynamic of maturity: we leave childish things behind and embrace adulthood. This is the ongoing work of the believer according to Paul: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Cor. 13:11). What a text this is for a “Kidified” age.
I’m not suggesting that we exemplify a grim, joyless, uptight vision of life. Adults can and should enjoy the common-grace gifts of life—sports, movies, whatever. The key here is whether we see maturity as good, profitable, and doxological. Is adulthood our friend, in other words, or our enemy? Are we called to stand out by finding a new way to be human, or by embracing the true humanity modeled and given us in the God-man, Jesus Christ? Are our churches structured around least-common-denominator growth, leaving us baby Christians, or sound-doctrine-powered-transformation, making us storm-tested and God-approved workers?
Our calling today, at least in part, is this: in the age when everybody wants to be a kid, the church has a terrific opportunity to model what it means to grow up.