The Grace of Growing Up: The eighth gift of the Holy Spirit
As regular readers know, my husband and I are guardians of our three grandchildren, ages seven, four, and two. They are fun, delightful, sweet kids, and we love them to pieces. They are also needy, demanding, outrageously self-centered, and drive us to distraction. In other words, they—and we—are normal.
Sometimes I can only laugh at their timing. Like when the seven-year-old insists that I show her “right now, Nana, please!” how to do something on the computer while I am up to my elbows in the poopy diaper of her squirming, equally impatient little brother. A gentle “Honey, what am I doing right now?” is the best I can manage. (Sometimes I’m not so gentle.)
The four-year-old has discovered the question “Why?” It’s his response to everything I say. Everything. It’s time for supper. Why? Let’s get your jammies on. Why? Let’s read a book. Why? Let’s watch Nana go bonkers. Why?
The two-year-old still doesn’t have a lot of words, but he makes up for the lack with volume. Take something he thinks is his, and he yells, “Heyyyyy!” He’s loud.
Their sense of self astounds me. Together they don’t weigh much more than 100 pounds, yet they have the audacity to claim what they think is rightfully theirs—which is, well, anything they want and a few things they don’t really want all that much but that someone else does.
Does this self-centeredness ever go away, or do we just civilize it a bit? Like a seven-year-old, I’ve expected immediate attention from a clerk or server or bank teller. Like a four-year-old, I storm the heavens with Why?! Why did you let this happen? Why is it so hard? Why me? And as with a two-year-old, there is too often an inner “Heyyyyy!”
Perhaps Jesus found his disciples as frustrating as we do our children. Those familiar characters of the Gospel who became the saints we invoke so often just didn’t get it. And who can blame them? Jesus forgives sinners and eats with them. Heyyyy! He says things like, “If you wish to come after me, deny yourself and take up your cross.” Why?! And just when he’s preparing himself to go to Jerusalem where he will stand trial, endure crucifixion, and die for us, his disciples pester him with self-centered questions like, “Please, can we be first and sit at your right and left hand? Can we, huh? Can we?” Timing.
Yet some of us do receive what Saint Teresa of Avila called “the grace of growing up.” Maybe that’s another way of talking about the gifts the disciples received on Pentecost, gifts offered to us in the sacrament of confirmation: wisdom, understanding, right judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence, and wonder and awe in the presence of the Lord. Together they fill us with the desire to do good, the ability to discern the good, the courage to do the good, and the grace to live this life with delight in the good.
We have the gifts—God promised them to us, and God doesn’t break promises. But it’s our job to unwrap them and learn to use them. They’re not like a new sweater we can just put on. They’re more like a musical instrument or an exercise machine or the latest tech toy. We must learn to use them and then practice, practice, practice.
It starts with that desire to grow up—which reminds me of my granddaughter as her birthday drew near. We had talked to her about the responsibilities of age seven. I overheard her explaining very patiently to her little brother, “When you’re seven, first you have to sin and then you have to tell the priest about it.”
Come, Holy Spirit. Right now. (Please.)