It was quite warm in the Christopher Wren church that summer day, and my very flamboyant British professor had just finished a discussion on the glories of archways when he turned his eyes upwards, snorted, and decried the defacement of one of his favorite churches: “Look at the ceiling – upside down bundt cake pans and fat flying babies. Typical Victorians, ruining perfectly good architecture.”
It was in that summer that I started really learning about worldview and philosophies and understanding why the Victorians were so prone to scatter rotund babies and demigods over their ceilings. And because I also studied Fantasy literature, a central question began reappearing: What does it mean to be a child? What does it mean to be mature? And how does one move from childhood to adulthood well?
Though a Standard article does not afford enough space for a treatise on philosophical perspectives on childhood and maturation, I challenge you as we round-out the summer and head towards school to consider how you answer the questions above. Do you see children as innocent, sweet angels to be protected from the evils of the world for as long as possible? Do you see them as tiny adults meant to be dressed in topcoats and tails? How do our children arrive at adulthood with some level of wisdom, strength, and virtue? Such answers must inform every facet of how we parent and educate…even down to how we decorate our church buildings.
As I began having children, I had to admit that many of my answers had been shaped not by biblical understanding, but by a hefty influence of Romanticism and a zesty dash of Victorianism. If we believe that children are born in a state of innocence, only to be corrupted by the evils of society, we have fallen directly into the philosophical trap that bound brilliant thinkers like Rousseau, Godwin, and more. Once stuck, we are apt to idolize childhood, viewing it as a time of Edenic innocence that will be permanently altered and broken by the outside world.
But is this how the Bible presents childhood? Certainly Christ has a special care for children, inviting them to Himself and exhorting us to become like them in many different ways: wonder, trust, love, simple faith, and more. But in typical biblical fashion, we are likewise exhorted to grow up and stop acting like children, setting aside the milk of infancy, for “solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 4:15).
So…which is it? What does a mature, child-like adult look like? And how do we do it? This is why Sam Gamgee in the Lord of the Rings has long been one of my favorite characters in Literature. We are too apt to see maturation as a loss of innocence, faith, and wonder. Think of many coming-of-age stories, from Harry Potter to Star Wars: we know a child has attained adulthood when he is up to no good. But Sam matures in a thoroughly Christian way: he grows as he faithfully moves forward, answering the call to adventure while yet immature, and doing incredibly hard things. He, like Merry and Pippin, leave the Shire as greenhorns and return as valiant warriors. They have matured not through the loss of innocence, though they have experienced great hardships, but through the loss of foolishness and the taking up of wisdom. They are hardened in the right ways, while their capacity for mirth, fellowship, and curiosity has only been deepened and broadened.
At ECS, the teachers and staff labor to come alongside you so your child will one day “carry and advance Christ-honoring culture.” We are here, by God’s grace, to help your child lay aside the immaturities that so easily entangle and take up the virtues that strengthen muscles and hone faith and fuel ingenuity in that advancement. We reject the world’s definition of maturity as incarnated in narcissistic young adults with jaded consciences seared to any sense of awe and ears dulled to the call of Lady Wisdom. But we also reject the notion that these children are to be plunked down in a meadow and entirely hedged in to avoid the perilous journey right around the bend. We desire to take their hands and begin the ascent.
Thus we hope that every visit to the U.H.’s office, every chant, every song, and every piece of homework that takes a little longer than you had hoped for and every book just a little beyond their mental reach will cause them to, as the Green Lady in Perelandra would say, grow older not through a loss of innocence and faith, but through attainment of wisdom and a deepening capacity for knowledge of themselves, this world, and its maker – in short, worship. We don’t fear the mountain of maturation, but with each step befitting their frames, we hope that they will be honed, grace-saturated, virtuous men and women who laugh louder, climb higher, and worship louder than those who have gone before.