What Does it Mean to Become an Adult?

 

I’ve been thinking for the past six months or so about the process of becoming an adult. This idea was brought on by a few things in my life, one of them being the fact that after ten years of marriage, we are in desperate need of a new couch. I walk across my house, eyeing the black piece of furniture that has been so kind to us over the years, over four moves into different living spaces in different states and seasons of life. I look at her, despondent as she is, and say to myself, I’m ready for something new.

 

I’m ready to be an adult.

 

I will be thirty this year, and it seems that after publishing a book last year and beginning therapy this summer, I’m coming into my own way, at least for the next season, at least for the next month. And while I’m so grateful to be where I am, there is always this nagging voice, much like the one that comes right before New Year’s Eve, right before resolutions are pinned to the wall and written in our planners: get your act together, that’s what adults do.

 

Make more money.

Clean up your house.

Figure out parenthood.

Get your exercise schedule together.

You need to work harder.

You’re lazy.

Adults know what boundaries are.

You should know more by now.

No adult actually watches Netflix this much.

 

 

If ever imposter syndrome abounds, it’s in these kinds of thoughts and feelings, telling me I’m not enough.

 

I’ve seen people my age and into their early thirties who have nicely dressed kids and the perfect patch of yard outside their dream home. They get up and go to work every day, they make wholesome meals and attend church regularly.

 

They are doing adulthood right.

 

…right?

 

Then I think about a lot of other adults I know. People with scars and stories, people who are still trying to get it together in their forties, fifties, sixties. In other words, they’re human.

 

And what I realize is, that’s what we all are, and the dream of being “an adult” isn’t as cookie-cutter as we say it is.

Adulthood, instead of a series of steps, is an ever-forming cycle of being human on this earth.

 

Adulthood isn’t that you’ll have kids and a spouse with a perfect A-frame house. That idea carries with it the American dream, an ideal held by the wealthy but unavailable to the poor, an idea that says things need to look and be a certain way to be successful.

It leaves out a lot of us.

 

And the ones with the perfect yards and the pristine children are also struggling with something, trying to learn what it means to love and live a better life, trying to learn what their journey looks like in that cycle of things.

 

So that’s what it must mean to be an adult: an awareness of our ever-evolving stories, an awareness of our scars and what they teach us to be in the world.

 

I’ve just started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with my sons, and at the beginning of the book, not long after Harry received his infamous lightning bolt scar, Hagrid asks Albus Dumbledore if he should remove the scar so that Harry can live without it.

 

Dumbledore responds with this:

 

 Scars can come in handy.

 

What if adulthood means we find ways for our scars to come in handy, for our mistakes and our successes to integrate themselves into our story?

 

 

What if we hit adulthood for a few years only to realize we need to turn back to our childlikeness?

 

There is this idea that if we get ourselves together, if we fix what is broken and clean up what is messy, that means we are healed forever, we are ready to be healthy in every way and will never make the same mistakes again.

 

But, dear friends, that is not humanity.

 

Maybe being an adult means realizing there is true, sacred beauty in childlikeness.

Maybe being an adult means we are called to remember our smallness in a huge world.

Maybe being an adult means we become a lore more like Fred Rogers and a lot less like Donald Trump.

Maybe being an adult isn’t just about independence but about recognizing our interdependence on a world that needs us—our gifts, our wholeness, our love.

 

What if our old, beat up couches and our ungroomed yards are just as much a part of our journey to adulthood as the pristine yards and the brand new pieces of furniture?

“Our work, then, is to become the healthiest possible version of who we uniquely are,” writes David Richo, author of How to be an Adult in Relationships. Maybe being an adult is endlessly asking what can bring us true joy and call us to life.

 

Maybe being an adult is realizing that working through healing is a necessary part of our wholeness.

 

In that case, the house isn’t the most important thing.

In that case, our children will be loved as we learn to love ourselves alongside them.

In that case, we learn to do this work in community, and we become stronger together.

In that case, the comparison game can’t get to us anymore.

In that case, as we dream about the kind of person we want to be tomorrow, we know that who we are today can count our successes, too.

 

In that case, adult on, friends. I’m right there with you. 

 

 

 

PEOPLE WHO HOLD SPACE WILL HEAL THE CHURCH

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When I married my husband, he’d just cut off his dreads and was an avid rock climber. He married me– a girl from a small town, comfortable in everything that I knew, in everything that I’d been and was going to be.

As Johnny Cash says, we got married in a fever, and before we knew exactly what we’d done, we were home from our honeymoon, beginning the long journey toward figuring out who we were–together.

When he married me, he loved who I was, but also saw who I could one day become, and he held that vision steady. And it wasn’t a vision for what he thought I was supposed to be, but a vision still unknown to him, held by the mystery of God.

He took me climbing in one of his favorite spots not long after we married. I had a dislike of nature, but was idealistic about it, and there was abounding irony in the fact that I’d married someone like him.

He took me to a place called Lincoln Lake, a climbing spot in Arkansas that had been home to him for a long time.

All that I remember thinking is that the lake water was really brown and there were a lot of bugs. I couldn’t see then the way I see now.

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Nine years later, close to our anniversary, we went back there. He took me to the top of the rocks to set up the climbing rope, and I sat and drank my coffee. There were large black ants crawling across my feet and the humidity in the air was rising little by little.

“It’s beautiful here,” I said.

“I didn’t appreciate it before.” I looked back with tears in my eyes.

“I know,” he said.

There seems to be a difference between being with someone to change them and being with someone as you hold space for them to change.

My husband has always held space for me.

He’s held space for me to grow up from the 19 year old who married him.

He’s held space for me to learn motherhood.

He’s held space for me to ask questions in my faith.

He’s held space for me to walk into my Native American culture without fear.

In holding space, he has loved me.

And he continues to hold space for who I’ll become tomorrow.

I’m convinced that space holding people are the ones who will heal the church.

They are the ones who bring justice and shalom, because they are patient people who hold onto a long-off vision. We need them in our churches, because they will not force change. They will not sit in pews and bear judgment over the people around them, but they will sit with those people and wait for God to show them the way.

The church has very publicly become a place that tries to manage others, and it often leaves people wounded. It wounds the church by distorting who the church should really be, and it wounds individuals in the church by making them feel like they aren’t good enough for Jesus.

So we need to learn to hold space.

Like my husband saw in me, we need to see what is good in each other, to hold onto the longer vision that God holds for each of us, and we need to wait.

I did not understand as a 19 year old who I was marrying or who I was. And in the process of learning, I needed someone who could be gentle yet steady with me, just as God is gentle and steady.

People like my husband, who hold space, show the unique character of God in a way that we are all hungry for.

So let’s practice holding space instead of holding one another hostage to our own ideals.

Let’s remember that God has an individual vision for each of us, and it’s worth waiting for.

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As I climbed up the rocks that morning, I felt like I was communing with a space of the world that I’d never known existed before. I felt drawn in by my inability to know exactly where to put my foot or my hands, but that unknowing gave me energy to try anyway, like I was trusting this thing that was calling me back to God.

And on the one climb when I reached the top, I turned around and scanned the treetops with my eyes. I looked down at the brown water and across the horizon of that Arkansas day and thought, “I am so glad I am alive.”

If we hold space for each other, we learn how to truly be alive with one another, as we cast off judgment and wait for the grace of God to journey with us into unknown and sacred places.

And my friends, it’s absolutely worth the wait.