Friday, September 13, 2013

On Being an Adult & Becoming Fully Present

How do you know when you are grown up? For us guys, when are you a man? What makes an adult an "adult"?

This extended quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, taken from his Letters and Papers from Prison, resonated with me when it came to discerning some characteristics of being an adult.

But is it not characteristic of adults, in contrast to an immature person, that their center of gravity is always where they actually are, and that the longing for their fulfillment of their wishes cannot prevent them from being their whole self, wherever they happen to be?

The adolescent is never wholly in one place; that is one of the essential characteristics of youth, else he would presumably be a dullard.

There is a wholeness about the fully grown adult which enables a person to face an existing situation squarely. Adults may have their longings, but they keep them out of sight, and somehow master them; and the more they have to overcome in order to live fully in the present, the more they will have the respect and confidence of other people, especially the younger ones, who are still on the road that the adult has already travelled.

Desires to which we cling closely can easily prevent us from being what we ought to be and can be; and on the other hand, desires repeatedly mastered for the sake of present duty make us richer. Lack of desire is poverty.

Almost all the people whom I find in my present surroundings in prison cling to their own desires, and so have no interest in others; they no longer listen, and they are incapable of loving their neighbor. I think that even in this place we ought to live as if we had no wishes and no future, and just be our true selves.

When I think of my desires - to be a great dad and husband, to make a lasting difference in the world, to pastor a church that transforms lives - I get inspired and overwhelmed. I love the idea behind the desires, but the burden of making them come true can be overwhelming. They are good desires. But I can let the desires - which are very much forward oriented - take me away from being fully present now.

And no greatness comes from living in the past or the future. In fact, at times, these desires have produced self-loathing and depression in me - for I felt that me being me would undermine my ability to fulfill my desires to great things! On this side of that darkness, I am becoming more open to becoming more present by mastering my desires and focusing on the duties set out before me.

And I am guided forward by Bonhoeffer's comments on being an adult by becoming fully present with my whole self. In whatever situation I find myself as a man, a dad and husband, a pastor or neighbor - being present as Tim is more vital than letting my desires fuel my actions and wrench me a way to the future.

My future-oriented desires undermine the vitality of what is happening right now. I suppose the same would work for my past-oriented desires of regret or nostalgia.

I know that I don't want to become the kind of person who takes no interest in others, doesn't listen, and is incapable of loving my neighbor. Learning to master all my desires, no matter how noble I think some of them feel, acknowledging them without fueling them, will help me live in the present and embrace the duties that God and society have presented to me in the now.

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