On Growing Up: A Letter To My Children
[Someday, perhaps, I will have children. There will be a great many things I wish to tell them, long before they are listening at all. That is the thing about the knowing you carry in the core of your heart: you can give it away every day of your life, but you cannot make anyone take it. And how will they know I was a child too, once? That what seems to them like a long age of dusty history was a short flash of years to me? That just as I started to figure it out, it was over?
I will write a letter. A letter from here, from 20 years old, from the barest bank on the other side of the bridge that only takes you halfway there. I will dedicate it to the children I may someday have. And to all the children that are mine in the Kingdom of Heaven.]
My Dear Children,
You are vibrant with breath. You are bright-eyed and beautiful. When you take it into your head to do a thing, you do it, and the crimson pump in your chest keeps time.
It is called life, and it is a gift you could do nothing to earn. In addition to that, it is a gift much too big for you, like a too-large sweater with sleeves dangling into the spaghetti. You must grow into it. That is what it is about. It is about coming to a coming of age that is more than the number of candles on a cake, or of discarded calendars. Quite simply put, it is about growing up.
Do not imagine that growing up has anything to do with growing old. For we all grow old (and if you do not know this now, oh! you will know it very soon) but only some of us ever grow up. You must not think that because you are young, you cannot grow up yet.
Someday you will be old. And in that day, you must not think that because you are old, you have grown up already.
For to grow up means more than the putting away of childish things. It means also the putting away of adultish things, of the wisdom of the world that clings ever closer as old age comes on. And you were born with a great many adultish things about you. You must grow out of all of this. Out of power-hunger and hard pride and cynical un-love. Out of the shallow pretenses of wisdom. Out of fear.
“There is a childhood into which we have to grow, just as there is a childhood which we must leave behind,” wrote George MacDonald. “A childlikeness which is the highest gain of humanity, and a childishness from which but few of those who are counted the wisest among men have freed themselves in their imagined progress towards the reality of things.”
Child, you must grow out of willfulness and into the strong will. You must grow out of reasonable anxiety and into the reckless abandon of trust. You must grow out of good resolutions and into obedience. You must grow out of innocence and into purity. You must grow out of self-sufficiency, and grow into the deep, deep debt. Little children, you must grow out of the fool’s paradise and into the Kingdom of Heaven.
I can say all of this to you with no lingering arrogance, for I was a child not long ago, – oh, such a little while ago! and I know all about it. I know what it is to be a new-comer to the wonder-filled world and the delight. I know what it is to be young and perfect and boisterous.
I know what it is to be at the center of my own universe and bitterly dissatisfied with my reign. I know what it is to be small and weak and overcome with vanity.
But more than all of that, I know what it is to be seeking after the good things with almost my whole heart. I know what it is to be fascinated and intrigued by glorious righteousness, and yet to shy away from the kind of giving up that is required. I know what it is to be holding something back.
Child, as long as you are holding something back, you are a child still, you have not grown up.
And this is the answer to all the riddles: growing up is giving up. When you get there, you will know it. It is giving up your vast dreams, your lively freedom, your marked-up maps, your own way, your own notions about the way things are, and the way they should be. It is a bowing of the knee. And when the boy has bowed his knee before the throne of the sovereign, it is then that he feels the scepter of the sword come down on his shoulders and rises a knight, a slayer of dragons, a man of action. Because most of all, growing up is an action.
Let me tell you the way of things in the Kingdom of Heaven. The truth is not given to you all at once. That is not the way of the learning that really matters. Truth comes in like the rising tide: one wave a little bigger than the next. What is different is that the ocean goes on beating the sand regardless of everything. But truth must have your permission before it can wash any deeper into you. It is a stark, strong, beauty and it will not waste itself on the unready heart.
When there is a thing that you know you must do, you must do it. When you do it, you will grow. Immediately you do it, you will know something you did not know before. You will know it in your core, and it will change you. If you do not do it, you will not grow. If you do not do it for a hundred years, you will be a hundred years old and a hundred years wasted. There is no other way to grow up.
Until you have come as far down this road as I have come, I hope you will be able to look at me and know there are good things ahead, that the thin little road is worth taking, in spite of the steep ascent, and the tight, mysterious curves.
But if you obey soon and do not wait long to do the thing that is given, you will fast leave your childhood behind and grow into my brother, my sister. I hope you will not be satisfied with that. For I did not do as well as I might have done. I left so much undone, and took such a long time to do anything at all.
Fix your eyes on the Master. Make him your ambition and your finish line, your homecoming, your resting place. Together we will run the long course. We will race.
Go humbly…it has hailed and snowed…
With voices low and lanterns lit;
So very simple is the road,
That we may stray from it.
After all, we are only little children walking through the snow and rain.
“I tell you the truth,” said the Master, when he was walking among us to bear witness to the truth. “whoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter.” For this reason, we need someone who will call us “child” as long as we live.
Child! What I want to say to you is as near to me as my own breath: stay young, little children. But grow up.