Are you afraid of growing up?
I wonder if you suffer from gerascophobia? This is not to be confused with geniophobia (a fear of chins). What I’m asking is this: Are you afraid of growing up?
If you ask someone under the age of eight how old they are, you will often get a surprisingly specific response: ‘I’m six and three quarters!’ In that answer we see a desire in a child to want to grow up, be bigger, be more independent: every month counts. But this desire to ‘grow up’ doesn’t last for very long. There is a general trend in our culture that those in their late teens and twenties are postponing growing up and taking responsibility.
The traditional benchmarks for taking on responsibility and growing up have been getting married, buying a house and having children. The statistics show that we’re getting older in taking these steps. In the 1970s the average age for men to be married was 24 and women 22 – today that has gone up to 32 for men and 30 for women. The average age for a woman for starting a family is 28 today compared to 24 in the 70s. The average age of a first time buyer is now 30+, compared to 24 in the 1960s.
Things have certainly changed and there are many different factors at play here: the economic downturn, debt that now follows after university, society’s view on marriage and cohabitation, and increased house prices. These reasons are valid, but could it be that they also offer convenient excuses to many not willing to take the next step in life and take on some responsibility? When J.M. Barrie wrote Peter Pan, he said, ‘All children, except one, grow up.’ But it seems today there is a huge temptation to try and make our home in Neverland, where you never grow up.
Maybe you’re aware of this ‘Peter Pan’ thinking creeping into your own life. Perhaps you can see a tendency to avoid commitment and taking responsibility. Are you trying to stretch out the ‘student’ lifestyle for as long as possible, being in no hurry to take responsibility?
As Christians we’re called to be thermostats, not thermometers. That might sound a little strange, but let me explain: A thermometer is affected by the environment around it; a thermostat affects the environment around it. But Jesus calls us to be distinctive. In John 17, Jesus prays that believers would be involved in our culture, while simultaneously being radically different from it.
Why is there an aversion to growing up, commitment and taking responsibility? We live in a culture that has removed God and eternity out of the picture. This has a huge effect upon everything, and brings with it fear:
Fear of the unknown
When you remove God from the picture, your future hangs on every decision that you make. That pressure can be overwhelming and crippling, leading to no decision being made at all. Therefore, it is easier to stay with what is known and is comfortable.
Fear of missing out
Without an eternity, this life is all we have and you need to make the most of it! This might accompany a desire not to ‘tie yourself down’ to anyone or anything. I need to keep my options open!
Fear of death
Since getting older brings us closer to the end of the one life we have, why would I want to look forward to that? At the heart of this is a fear of death. Death is the ultimate enemy that is terrifying without Jesus.
Fear of discomfort
Thinking of and loving other people is costly and sacrificial. It means your money and time are not your own. Why would you want to choose that over the comfort that you now have? It seems much better and easier to stay in the comfortable state that you are in.
But you see, when we look at the gospel, it transforms our outlook on life, and offers us something greater and better than what our culture offers. Lets look at those fears again, but this time bringing in the perspective of the gospel and of eternity.
A God who knows
Although we are responsible for our actions and decisions, we can cast our cares and anxieties on our God, and He cares deeply for us (1 Pet. 5:7). As we look at our future, we can trust in the One who is the Alpha and the Omega (Rev. 1:8) – he knows the end from the beginning. And the gospel shows us He is good, and we can trust him – he has our best interests at heart.
A God who satisfies
A pastor friend of mine was talking with a young member of his church recently who was considering spending another year travelling, because he feared that this was his only opportunity. My friend was able to show him, that because of eternity and the promise of a renewed creation, we will have eternity to see the glories of God’s unscarred creation, no longer broken. This life isn’t all we have. We have eternity. This frees us to live radical, risk taking, sacrificial, God honouring lives.
A God who has defeated death
For our times, death is terrifying. It’s the end. There is no hope beyond it. However the gospel tells us that we don’t need to fear death. Jesus has beaten it. He has been there, and come back. He takes the sting away from it. That means we don’t need to fear getting old. Perhaps we might even begin to think that grey hair isn’t simply to be covered up, but can be a crown of glory (Prov. 16:31)!
A God who brings joy
When we think of loving others, putting them first, that seems so restrictive, uncomfortable and life-sapping. But putting others before ourselves is actually life giving. We are made in God’s image, and the triune God in His very nature is self giving, each person of the Godhead giving glory to the other (John 17). As we love others, giving of our time and money, far from being restrictive, this brings life. Jesus tells us that if we want to gain our life, then we must lose it (Mark 8:35). In this sense, the Christian life is like Doctor Who’s Tardis; it doesn’t look like much from the outside, but once you step in, there’s another world, a world of freedom, joy and selfless love.
This particular issue is especially relevant for young men. It is time for young men to see the liberation the gospel brings and step out in bold, brave, God honoring leadership and sacrifice.
Are you afraid of growing up? Many today are yearning for Neverland, yet as believers we can put our hope in something true and better. We look to a God who by his grace has promised us an eternity with him in the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21). We don’t have to fear that we are getting older and wasting away, because in Christ we are being renewed every day (2 Cor. 4:16).
Our lives are in His hands and those are nail pierced hands, which proves he loves you and you can trust Him with absolutely everything.
Andrew Norbury is co-pastor of Peniel Evangelical Church, Maesteg.
 I’m indebted to Tim Keller for this illustration.