I turn seventeen on Friday.
In theory, sixteen and eighteen are both milestone birthdays, and seventeen is just kind of…hanging out in between somewhere. But to be honest, turning seventeen feels like much more of a big deal than turning sixteen did. It seems so much more grown up. It’s your last year of childhood.
In the world’s eyes, growing up is almost a tragedy. Childhood is seen as the best time of life, the simplest time, that will never return again. Now you have to enter the scary world of “adulting” and deal with the fact that the best years of your life are hypothetically over.
But is this the right way to think?
As I was thinking about this more and more, I realized something. Nowhere in the Bible is childhood idolized the way it is in our culture. There is not an ounce of nostalgia or sentimentalism towards childhood in God’s Word.
In fact, the opposite is true. Maturity and adulthood are lauded as good things, great things, things to strive for and look forward to.
Take a look at these passages:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…
When I was a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.
-1 Corinthians 13:11
Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.
-1 Corinthians 14:23
Clearly, Paul does not consider childhood the best time of life. In fact, to him, “childhood” is synonymous for “immaturity”, which is something that all Christians should strive to overcome.
And this was really encouraging to me – childhood is not supposed to be the only good time of our lives. It’s not supposed to be a bad thing to grow up. It is, in fact, supposed to be a very good thing.
This does not mean that we cannot look back on our childhood with nostalgia. It is a wonderful time, certainly! And if you had a wonderful childhood that makes you not want to grow up, be thankful for that gift that God gave you. But you don’t have to feel like the best time of life is over once childhood ends.
Childhood is a training grounds for life. It’s a time for us to learn from the godly adults in our lives as well as learning from the various experiences we have. It’s our chance to make mistakes without the pressure.
But childhood is not the end goal. Here is the end goal:
Epaphras, who is of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.
In all of these verses, we see that the Bible views growing up as a good thing, not a bad thing; something to look forward to, not something to dread; something to pray for, not something to struggle against.
Once we begin to reach these last years of childhood, we will have mixed feelings, certainly. Looking back, we ought to be grateful to God for the many blessings he gave us while we were still children. But we don’t need to get bogged down in what-ifs and should-haves. You don’t need to feel guilty if you think you didn’t live your childhood to the fullest, use your teen years well, or appreciate what you had while you had it. What God gave you, and what you experienced, was what you were supposed to experience, and it was enough. It was enough to prepare you for the adult that you are going to be, exactly what you needed as training for the rest of your life.
And as you turn your gaze forward into the future, be excited! Trust in God’s wonderful plans for your life, and realize that there will be just as many wonderful gifts in this life stage as in the past one. Look forward to the depths of faith and maturity that will grow and take root as you get older, the deeper and more meaningful relationships, the chance to do even bigger things for God in the world. The end of childhood is not the end of “the good years”. If you are with God, your whole life is good, and it is under His control.
He is with you in the present and the future, just as He was in the past; now take hold of His hand and move forward in faith and confidence.
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity…