Ride That Continuum
The beloved human has been maturing for millennia.
Interestingly, the growth pattern of the individual psyche and even our spiritual evolution somewhat resembles the course of the still-developing human race. Not so surprising then, is the idea that history indicates a moment of sweet naivety, an age of barbarianism, a time of domination-by-rules, a period of quietness or darkness, followed by a ripeness for knowledge, leading into rebellions and revolutions and emancipation and deeper learning, a surge in industrial able-ness hemmed in by the maddening reality of limitation, a broadening into holistic seeing, an assertion toward human decency…
Or something like that.
Life’s composition de facto—its progression, and the fact of its organized procession—did/do we achieve it in a sort of pre-meditated way? Or does it just… happen. Often haphazard messy-like, yet naturally suited for the purpose of maturing. Its template, seemingly too monumental and mysterious to have been pre-planned, is also too consistent, and intricately apropos to have been an accident.
This is a truth: To be alive is to be ushered through a process of maturing, and it does more harm than good to rush it or deny it. A certain framework for development exists, and whether we acknowledge it or not, or whether we respect it or not, or are aligned with it or not, it is proved—you might even say “glorified”. It prevails even if we don’t believe in it.
Here’s an example of me proving the growth cycle as I go against it: In my quest to earn the parent’s “Best Cultivator of Thinking Children” award, I played around with the idea of skipping some steps of the growth process with my girls. I tried to bypass the barbarian age by appealing to their logic and reason. Except that they didn’t have anything for me to work with at ages two, or three or four. I thought if I did a fabulous job explaining why people shouldn’t run into the street, that my toddlers would simply not do it. But no, there isn’t a way around the age—barbarians need rules which are regularly enforced, not the thirty minute-long lectures which I am so good at. History buffs would back me up on this: Enlightenment is born after navigating a dark and barbaric terrain. Infertile as that ground may seem. God have mercy.
Here is another example of the growth process prevailing as I go along with or against it depending on the day: I am anxious to get to the “assertion toward human decency” and even the “peace and harmony” end of the spectrum within my household. As a result, I am in a constant state of temptation to simply give my kids what they want so that they’ll be happy, in hopes that therefore, we can all be in peaceful relationship with one another—as if getting what one wants and removing all resistance is the secret shortcut to a peaceful existence. But I’ve witnessed the absurdity of this idea. I have seen with my own eyes that peace and happiness do not occur without first having cultivated in them respect and unselfishness, obedience and self-control. I must do my time in these trenches, teaching and modeling and encouraging these things first, before I can hope for any lasting payoff of steadfast peace. God help me. There is a process.
Each season of life is necessary. Have you ever known an adolescent who was never bound to a set of rules in their elementary years? Have you met an elementary-aged boy or girl whose early childhood innocence was taken? How about an adult was never given any freedom, or room for rebellion when in their late teens? A mid-lifer who has never experienced their own limitation? Or an elderly person who never learned to see beyond him/herself? There becomes something unpleasant, and ‘isms which can be worked through, but are in themselves, unhelpful or destructive—often to no fault of that individual—when steps are skipped, or robbed, or avoided. All ages are important—one best gets “there” by first being “here”.
Each season is necessary, and also each season must come to an end so that the next one can begin. Ever tried to re-create that favorite age and relive it again? I was not popular in high school, so there was never any danger of me regressing and trying to relive those inglorious days. But I did love college. I thrived there. And, for a long time afterward, I found myself trying to arrange my post-college environment to resemble an exciting, free, driven, purposed, inspired, wisdom-seeking place with many like-minded peers. The result of that? Something palpably unnatural. Inauthentic. Unrewarding. Downright icky. Like, Pet Cemetery-(the movie)-weird. Note to self: only God resurrects.
As some of us are inclined to cling to the past, many others of us would rather hop on the express lane to the next thing—to somewhere beyond wherever we’re currently at on the spectrum, believing that all promise is confined to the future. For example, my young married friends want a gratifying, non-challenging relationship with their spouse; and my eight year old wants an apartment. But even if we could take a quantum leap into the future, would we have the maturity to live in it or the means to sustain it? No, the place of promise is every bit as much about us being transformed into people who can live there as it is about the actual place. For that matter, if this place is correlated with our reciprocal ability to live in it, then perhaps this place is actually already here, and we just haven’t evolved enough to see it?
The enticement within the dangling carrot of “the next thing” is the promise of some kind of unthreatened contentment. Whether she could articulate it or not, that’s what my eight year-old is seeking in the next mountain range over. As intangible and lack-luster as that sounds, isn’t that the ultimate state of being? Marketing and advertising companies make trillions by promising this. Satisfaction without threat? Yes, please—I’d like me some of that.
Perhaps in my barbaric age, I would have asked as my six year old does whenever we’re going somewhere: “When will we get there?” If we’ve got a homing device within us that is set on contentment (read: perfectly and completely evolved beings—matured to a place above all threat), and if we’re hardwired to believe that such a thing is possible, then the next logical question is: “When or how do I get to this place of satisfaction?”
This is a necessary question. It is a question that is intended to be asked—so no offense implied by the word “barbaric”. One gets best to whatever is next by knowing some of the answer to this question; and likely, anyone reading a Christian blog already knows the answer, which includes the idea that we are made fully perfect and suitable for eternity by way of a seeming devolution.
Equally as interesting (to me, anyway) is asking this question on behalf of the whole human civilization. We can be sure that God is continually working on this angle. When/how will the whole human get to a state of perfect wholeness which prospers in contentment? Perhaps the answer is the same as the individual’s life cycle. By taking cues again from the natural order of the individual life, maybe the human’s whole and ultimate deliverance into salvation… reflects the same downward movement. Maybe the beloved human doesn’t finally figure out its way into salvation, or climb its way into heaven; rather, maybe the world crumbles and falls into the hands of the Resurrecting God. It’s not as if the Bible doesn’t hint at this.
Despite the disturbing sound of that, based on the evidence at hand, is there any reason to think that we would eventually create a utopian, eternal life for ourselves? Or do we just finally, sort of, roll over into it? When do we get there? How do we get there? This is the Way that was revealed to us: to be about the Father’s tasks before us to the best of our ability (whatever that means), and to wait and pray for our deliverance into something greater. May God deliver us sooner rather than later.
I find all of that fascinating to think about, and asking when or how we get there is essential, that we may know it and practice it. But recently, I was inspired to contemplate this next question:
“Do we need to worry about getting there?”
In light of life’s purposeful procession reflected in life throughout the universe, a person could wonder: do we mature ourselves, or does the process of life mature us? I’m initially inclined to think I play a large role in completing and perfecting myself—it certainly requires trust and humility to think otherwise—but if history can offer any insight as to how we got from there to here, it would seem that the human has little more responsibility than to simply be about the tasks put before him to the best of his ability (whatever that means), and to wait and hope for something greater.
Have I made my role more complicated than that? Don’t I have more control than that? Doesn’t God want more for us, or from us, than that?
Consider this illustration of a symphony: When regarding a singular bar or measure in a piece, there is no clear melody, the crescendo leads to nowhere and the movements seem to collide without any real rhyme or reason. Only when hearing the whole piece does each stanza have full value. Even more, we know that the purpose of playing music is not to simply race to the end of it—rather, it was written to be enjoyed, and so that all would play to each one’s best ability, while watching the conductor. The truth is, the orchestral-like flow of life is designed and conducted by an intentional and involved Creator for the ultimate good of all things. We certainly have our part to play, but ultimately it is the responsibility of the living, breathing, knowing conductor to bring a performance to its completion.
It opens the pressure valve a bit when I look at life from this angle. It releases me from the impossible task of perfecting myself on my own, or knowing things beyond what I can know, or doing things that I cannot do with resources that I do not have. When I trust that the process of life is adequately purposed for the perfect completion of all things including me, my hope finds a home in something much bigger than just perfecting my own part in everything. I’m suddenly less fearful of what the moment takes away, and instead, I’m more hopeful in what the fullness of time will create. I am less anxious about getting to my “there”, and am suddenly more patient with my “here”. And I am less paranoid about what I (or anyone else) am doing wrong, and more encouraged to simply participate.
So, as far as wanting to know when we will get there, all that we can be certain of is that God is never rushed. He owns time. And He has complete faith in His ability to create and direct a beloved creation into its intended, beautiful wholeness in His own time. How will we get there? It’s a lot less convoluted than I make it out to be. The answer is: here. I get there by way of doing the tasks put before me to the best of my ability while I wait and pray for my deliverance.
Do we have to worry about getting there? As believers in Christ, we can trust the process of life to bring us to perfect completion—to bring about a good work—enduring every season, because our process is being conducted by a loving, all-powerful Creator who is fully invested in the age we are in right now, whether it looks like He is or not. My perfection never hinged on my achievement of it. Neither is that the case for our whole human self. But God’s will for the perfect completion of the whole human will come to pass. If I want to get to a content and unthreatened place in the pre-ordained trajectory of humanity, I’d do best to simply believe this. May God’s will be done.
Our promised land has not passed us by. Neither is the land of contentment a certain place on the continuum as much as it is the whole continuum. Therefore, our calling is simply to be on it. We may feel as if we have moved either toward or away from some of the values that make us promising candidates for eternal satisfaction, but we are certainly not far away from God’s ability to restore the beloved human to its full and whole state. Depending on your perspective, the human race may be in a crescendo or a decrescendo, but either way, the current dynamic was scored and perfected long ago. For that matter it is probably unhelpful to idolize previous generations, and it is equally unhelpful to doom or blame this next one, regardless of what our surroundings may look like. We generations have much less control than we think in the ultimate outcome. Fortunately, God is still in control. Even now, He is guiding, directing and knowing; providing us daily with the means to become and possess satisfaction without threat.
Seeing the human from an more evolved perspective is to know that the biggest factor for a person’s maturation is not so much one person’s perfect choices, or the other person’s perfect reactions, but mostly time—the process of life, my earnest participation, and a patient acceptance of that. Unthreatened contentment is the result of embracing the whole thing. I am a kinder parent when I believe this.
In every age, God is God. God is in control. Believing that is the way to contentment.
One last illustration:
I watched an adventure documentary about a Dutch girl named Laura Dekker who became the youngest person to sail around the world alone. It took her two years—she was fourteen when she started her journey and sixteen when she finished. At the end of the documentary, the spirit of her exit interview went something like this:
“When I first started sailing, all I wanted to do was beat the storms and avoid the doldrums. But now I know how to be OK with all of those things. Yes, I plot my course, but I have learned how to be a part of good and bad weather in order to get where I’m going. I have grown into someone who is content with the whole experience, and that changed everything for me.”