Wednesday, November 28, 2012

On Growing Up

by Ben Howard

I remember the first time that I realized I was an adult, or at least that I was becoming an adult. I was in college and I’d just had some argument with my parents. I don’t remember what it was about, but I remember for the first time in my life I was disappointed in my parents.

Of course there had been times I had disagreed with them or times they had punished me when I felt it was unwarranted, but this was different. Before I’d always had this notion that they might be right and I was probably being immature or stubborn. Or, if I was convinced they were wrong, I would just be mad at them. But I wasn't mad this time, I wasn’t frustrated, I was disappointed. I felt that they should have known better.

It’s the first time I remember feeling like I was on my parent’s level and with that realization came another and more startling realization, one that becomes more and more obvious as I continue to mature: Everybody is making up life as they go along.

I want to be clear that none of this is a criticism of my parents. They were wonderful and I honestly believe they have always done what they thought was best in every situation. This story isn’t about them, nothing about them changed, I changed, or at least my perspective changed.

I remember being 21 sitting in my apartment at school and realizing for the first time there was no instruction manual for life, or raising kids, or being an adult, or getting a job, or growing up. I realized that my parents were winging it and doing the best they could.

It’s not like I had previously lived under the delusion that adults somehow had some secret society which allowed them to be all-knowing, it’s just that I never thought about it. I questioned authority, but more because I was simultaneously precocious and belligerent, not because I thought I actually had something figured out. For some reason I always imagined that the grown-ups knew the secrets of life and we just had to pay our childhood dues until they told us.

I know some people will probably find this concept cynical. The idea that no one really knows what they’re doing undercuts a lot of the certainty built into our society and disturbing people’s certainty gets messy in a hurry.

But I find this notion liberating. It’s allowed me to empathize and be more compassionate. It allows me to find the humility to apologize when I do wrong, and the ability to forgive when I feel like I’ve been wronged.

I am not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I can be arrogant and flippant and abrasive, but eventually I remember that I’m not always right, that I don’t have a license on the correct way to live, that I’m winging it just like everybody else. So I learn and try to change or adapt. Sometimes I’m more successful, sometimes I’m not.

I think this may have saved my faith as well.

I’ve watched a lot of people, including close friends, become bitter with the Church and with Christianity when the certainty they were fed as children clashed with the uncertainty and doubt present in the wider world. When you are told as a child that everything makes sense, it should come as no surprise that you feel lied to when you realize as an adult that it does not. When the story you’re told as a child is simple, you will feel betrayed when you find out that the reality is messy beyond measure.

The faith tradition of my youth craved certainty and I can understand the feelings of anger and bitterness felt by many when they discovered their reality to be far messier, when they discovered that their simple answers gave way in the face of complex questions.

But the people who told me those things, they weren’t lying or being manipulative, they were trying to do the best they could, and they best they knew was to answer questions even though sometimes those questions didn’t have answers.

I learned to stop looking to the Church the way a child looks to their parents. When I was a child my parents could not express doubt, they had to act with authority even if they weren’t certain. For too long I feel Christians have cast the Church as this same authority figure and in turn the Church has responded with certainty in places where doubt and uncertainty would have been more appropriate.

You see, I forget sometimes that the Church is made up of people just like me who are just winging it, doing the best they can to the best of their knowledge. Sometimes they’ll mess up and that isn’t an indictment of faith or Christianity or God, it’s an indictment of people, not even an indictment, it’s just the way things work.

So yes, sometimes just like you’re occasionally disappointed by your parents, or your friends, or yourself, you’ll be disappointed by the Church. Just remember there isn’t an instruction manual for life and we’re all kind of making it up as we go along.


You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenHoward87 or email him at benjamin.howard87 [at]

You can subscribe to On Pop Theology via RSS feed or email on the top right corner of the main page.

No comments:

Post a Comment