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Monday, August 13, 2012

Too Soon Old, Too Late Grown Up

As a child, I spent hours daydreaming what it would be like to actually become an adult. As a fully grown man, I would finally get to be in charge of my very own life.

My first fantasies were to grow up to have a large farm with very large and very powerful farm equipment. Later I imagined being the conductor of a huge choir, or a spellbinding speaker to large audiences. I'm a bit embarrassed about that now, but I wanted everything BIG.

Maybe that was because as a boy I was always size SMALL. The half-pint eighth child in my family, I was assigned to the second grade in my first year of school, which meant being a year younger (and feeling a foot shorter) than everyone else in my class. And since I was never much of an athlete, I was often the last to be chosen for a softball or other team during recess.

I tried hard to change that. As a teen, I once borrowed a Charles Atlas Body Building Course, complete with instructions for transforming a 97-pound weakling into a muscular hunk of a man. But after months of effort, I still felt and looked small. I was focusing more on the outside than on the inside part of growing up.

So how and when could I gain that fully grown up feeling? Surely, I thought, by 18, or at least 21. Or maybe when I married, at 25, or became a father, at 27. Or would it come with being ordained, or finishing grad school? But somehow just getting older didn’t automatically mean feeling more competent and mature.

I was well into my forties when I began to ask myself how much longer I was going to keep seeing myself as a young, inexperienced novice, and why I felt a need to work so hard to prove my worth and to win everyone’s approval. It struck me that when my father was that age I saw him as having the stature of a Moses fresh off Mt. Sinai. Of course he may not have always felt so capable and confident, but he had me convinced. At 40, he was clearly someone to be looked up to.

Later in life I learned I wasn’t alone in feeling I had less stature and status than my peers. In fact, when I’ve had clients do a stick figure drawing of their family, with the height of each family member indicating the power or influence they see each person having, they have often drawn themselves as shorter than the rest.

But isn’t that as it should be? Aren’t we supposed to put ourselves in a lower, humbler position than others?

Yes, but to choose that position from a feeling of strength, not inferiority. In fact, I've begun to see real humility is a matter of respecting myself and every other child of God as equally and incomparably precious, neither above nor below anyone else. This means avoiding even an “humbler than thou” attitude, since in God’s eyes, we are all on the same level pedestal.

Parents, especially, need to claim all of their God-given power and stature, then to use it not to lord it over children, but to effectively lead them. The mandate of moms and dads is to bring up their sons and daughters, to raise and empower them to become strong leaders and eventually good parents themselves.

For all of us, the more empowered we feel, the more calmly and effectively we can behave. We no longer have to resort to manipulation, coercion, or anger adrenaline to give us the feeling of adult stature that already belongs to us.
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