Martin Luther once wrote “We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road.”
We are not yet what we shall be…
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, partly because we now have a teenager at home and life is interesting (insert challenging, hormone drenched, funny, frustrating, and occasionally infuriating). The thing is that I keep looking at him, especially when his behaviour reminds me of an episode from the Twilight Zone, and it’s so clear that he is not yet the finished product. This beautiful boy, who is driving me slightly crazy, is not yet who he shall be. He is a work in progress and because of this I have patience. He is a work in progress and because of this, when his behaviour is challenging, I can still find him fascinating, because of this, I find his mistakes easier to forgive, because of this, I find his victories so exciting.
Driving him to school yesterday something struck me. I am so comfortable about giving him space to allow him to grow at his own pace but I wonder, have I ever acknowledged that I am still growing too? Have I ever realised that my family and my friends are not yet who they will be either? Or do I expect perfection from them? Do I expect both myself and others to be the finished project for no other reason than that we are adults? I think I do. I think I have bought into the myth of the grown up – the person who has done their learning, who has answered life’s questions, and who is therefore “done”.
But are we ever done?
Every day we learn more about ourselves (some of it good and some of it disappointing), about the world and about people. Everyday we experience new things and make new choices and feel new ways – we are never finished, we are never grown up. So maybe we need to change the term, perhaps we should all be growing ups instead of grown ups. And I’m not just saying this in order to play with words.
If we recognize that we are in a process of growth, then our expectations of ourselves are more realistic. A growing person is allowed to make mistakes, a grown one should know better. A growing person can be shown patience and forgiveness, a grown one shouldn’t need either. A growing person can change the course of their life because they are still becoming who they will be. A grown person is done and they are stuck with who they are. It is kinder to ourselves if we see ourselves as growing ups and it’s kinder to others too.
What’s more, it’s not just kinder, it is transformational. My father was in the army when he was young and I remember him telling me that his commanding officer had an interesting way of dealing with larrikins – he would promote them. When I asked why, my father answered me that people will usually live up to our expectation. If we expect them to do poorly, that’s what they will do, if we expect them to rise to the challenge they may just do that too. What would others do if we expected them to be on a journey of growth? What would they become if we cheered them on along the way and championed them when they were weary or falling down? They might just see that they are not yet finished and run on along the road to greatness. They might just cheer unfinished us on too.