Today he comes of age, legally at any rate. Adventure awaits as he embarks on his own life at university whilst the rest of us brave our own new world a couple of thousand miles away. Adult life is just around the corner, “coming, ready or not”. God grant him grace to walk that path.
There is nothing magical about 18. Children do not cross an imaginary finish line and become instant adults; it is simply an arbitrary point chosen by the powers that be, a convenient place to “officially” situate a change of status as a person passes through the developmental stages from dependence to independence, childhood to adulthood. Some may wake up to the realization that maybe, just maybe, they will have to take life a little more seriously. Others may have already passed that point and be well entrenched in life in the big bad world. Still others will remain in their virtual world of computer games and cyber-heroes for a little while yet, living out their ambitions vicariously through Grand Theft Auto mobsters or PS3 football cracks rather than risk the real world beyond the confines of a screen.
It seems that we are not really sure how to mark the occasion. For our eighteen year olds there is nothing like a “quinceañera”, that wonderful celebration of the transition from girl to womanhood common across Latin America. The symbolic swapping of tennis shoes for heels and a dance with her father grant a girl a measure, at least, of grown-up identity – even if her father does still want to “approve” any young man who attempts to lay any claim upon her life.
But for those reaching 18, if the cards on sale at the local supermarket are anything to judge by, there is little offered other than being able to get drunk legally. “Party as you have always done, but without fear of getting caught”, was the most creative, though nevertheless sharing the “I’m eighteen, buy me a drink” sentiment of the rest. Can people really find no other way to celebrate this otherwise imperceptible transition into adulthood than to suggest getting well and truly drunk? Alcohol has its place, but alcohol abuse is never a good idea. Ever.
What is it that marks this transition to adulthood then? Times change and places differ. Some would say that adolescence is a purely modern and western invention and that people all over the world get on perfectly well without it, thank-you very much. One day you are told you are an adult, you submit to a rite of passage or ritual that marks that moment, and you start to behave as an adult.
Whilst a little simplistic, there is more than a little truth in this. Adulthood occurs where a person takes on and starts to live out the role they see modeled by other adults. More than anything else it is the turning point point where a person begins to “give” to the world around them more than they “receive”, taking responsibility for their own life and that of others who become dependent on them, just as they themselves were once dependent on others. And this seems to be the fruit of inner attitudes more than any external circumstances.
This is just the sentiment of Ephesians 4. To “become mature”, “no longer infants”, this is where we are supposed to be headed. To be people who give back into the body of Christ and the world around us, not just take. People who contribute to the growth of the whole body, reflecting the nature of Christ, the salt of the earth. And like 18 year olds, this is more to do with an inner realization; it certainly does not come automatically with the passing of the years.
Babies are beautiful. And so are 18 year olds, in their own way. But 18 year olds that still behave like babies are not. It is time to come of age. Grow up. Live up to your age in Christ. Settle for nothing less than radical maturity in Jesus. Take hold of this world and your place in it, living to be a blessing more than striving to be blessed.
And David – thank-you for these 18 years. We look forward to what the future holds for you and, as the song nearly says, “We will always stand by you”. God go with you.