(The following is my column for the November issue of ChurchActs, our diocesan newspaper)
Adolescence and Middle Age.
In our culture these are the two great times of change, the two great passages in a persons life. I'm working through one and the young people with whom I work are making their way through the other. Over the summer I got started thinking about those two parts of life. What's amazed me was realizing how much they had in common.
Our bodies are changing That's the big one and it's scary at both times. A young persons body begins doing things, and feeling things that they've never had to deal with before. It's disturbing and the reaction from other people to those changes can be pretty scary too. Those of us who made it through can still remember suddenly feeling weird and not being sure why everyone else had decided to act so weird too. The middle aged person's body is changing too and most of us don't like it one little bit. Things we've always been able to do are suddenly hard or even impossible. Just like our younger brothers and sisters our bodies are changing shape too. There are also days when we feel weird and aren't so sure about all the people around us.
Our lives are changing Young people are preparing to grow up and move out. Adults are preparing to deal with a home that has fewer people in it. There are whole new categories of decisions to be made about our lives, our dreams and our expectations. At both ages we need to re-examine who we are and how we've changed. As a boy I wanted to be an astronaut, as a young man I had to take a serious look at what I saw in my future. Today I need to look again at what I saw in my future at 18 and decide what part, if any, of those dreams have been fulfilled, still await me in the future or need to be discarded altogether. Our financial situations are changing, our employment situations are changing, the level of responsibility is changing.
Our relationships are changing This may be the most frightening of all when it enters that pivotal relationship of parent and child. The younger person is trying, often straining and fighting, to move away from their old relationship with their parent. It's a necessary and vital transformation but it involves great risk as well. The comfortable safety net of parental back-stopping gradually diminishes, increased responsibility for decisions and outcomes can be a heavy burden. (And one that parents often try to soften for their children. It's an incredibly bad parental decision in my opinion but that's for another column) Moving out and growing up are exhilarating and exciting experiences but they come with uncertainty as well.
The change for the middle aged person is just as daunting even when the changes are in the reverse. As our parents age often it is the children who must accept more responsibility for that relationship. We become the safety net for our parents and in many cases move into a parental/caregiver role for them as they did for us in childhood. When the person you have looked to all your life is now looking, even beseeching you for guidance and direction powerful emotions are brought to the surface. They can range from sadness to anger to uncertainty to determination. Freud believed that no one became an adult until their parents died. That transition is no easier simply because we've had so much practice being adults.
In the end my hope is that young person and adult can look at one another with greater empathy as we each travel our assigned portion of the journey. Very often as young people we assume that adults have it together (even if it's a pretty bizarre together) and that it's "easier" some how to be a grown up. Adults will too easily discount the pain and struggle of the transitions and transformations of growing up. The world our youth face is more complicated than the one in which we grew up. The choices they face are similar to ours but come with many more permutations and penalties.
Together we can comfort, counsel and guide one another through the hard parts. We can pray for one another and above all LOVE ONE ANOTHER. For through that love we give the greatest assistance, strength and support that there is.
The French have a saying that translates as "The more things change, the more they stay the same". As we walk through life it's important to remember that.