Growing Older or Growing Up?

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ...”—Ephesians 4:15

With my legal adult!

With my legal adult!

This weekend, our family celebrated the twenty-first birthday of my oldest child, my daughter, Janna. As her graduation from college approaches at the end of this school year, we are excited about God's plans and prospects in her life.

But even as Janna (and Matthew and Jonathan as well) look forward to the future, there is one that will not grow up as they will. With each passing birthday, the gap between where Anah is and where she could be if she did not have Down Syndrome grows. When she entered our family, she was seven, but developmentally she functioned at about an 18-month-old level. Now, at age twelve, she functions at about a 2-½ year old level. She is growing older, but she is not growing up.

This then introduces many painful realities that are very heavy to bear. There are griefs that I still need to process, losses that came with the adoption that I did not anticipate. One of the things that I am struggling most with is the fact that Anah will require care for the rest of her life. As my peers are starting to enter the empty nest stage, I find myself feeling a twinge of envy. When they are free to embark on their adventures, I will still need to find babysitting for my adult daughter. It is at this point when I feel like throwing a spiritual temper tantrum. “It isn’t fair!” my soul argues. After the anger subsides, depression sets in.

This is where the Lord steps in with His gentle words and admonition, gently asking me if I too am growing older, but not growing up. Will I walk this road of self-sacrifice and death, knowing the power of His resurrection? Am I holding on to the values of the world or am I willing to count them as loss? (Phil. 3:10) Will I not only face the suffering and pain of following Jesus into hard places but count them all joy because in them lie the maturing of my faith? (James 1:2-4) Honestly? The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

I recently came across a video clip from Francis Chan about why he doesn’t need more “fellowship.” It was thought-provoking and resonated with me. (Go ahead and watch it, and then come back. It’s only about 2 minutes but explains what my thoughts are better than I ever could, Francis Chan-style.)

When I agreed to adopt, it was not because I was particularly kind-hearted or compassionate. I already knew I was in over my head homeschooling three children; I certainly did not have time or energy for more. But what did intrigue and excite me was the possibility that bringing Anah into our lives would allow the Lord to deepen the faith of my family—my nuclear family and my church family. (I shared a little about that in this post.) If the Lord wanted our family to care for her, then we will do it as an act of faith and obedience, not because we ourselves are good people. 

But the interesting part is this: This is a team effort. He uses one another to do so. I sharpen you; you sharpen me. Using our spiritual gifts, we help each other to get beyond our childishness (Eph 4:11-14) so we can stir up one another on to love and good works (Heb. 10:24).

There are still many struggles ahead for us as we navigate life for Anah. It will tax and test us in ways we cannot anticipate. Will I grow up or will I just grow old as I face them? I know this will depend on my choices, but I also know that I need to lean on the church, just as Anah needs to lean on us. As we do so, may we also mature into the likeness of Christ.