An invitation to grow up into grace
Listen, I have a gift. I can make up some killer preschool songs. Like, if you’re a three-year-old who lives in my house and you say to me, “Mommy, sing a song about “ooogly wally offos in my socks,” I may actually belt a song that goes:
There are Ooogly Wally Offos in my socks!
Not in my docks! Not in my pants!
Not in the sun! Not in the moon!
Not in all the places where the Ooogly Wally Offos swoon…
Brooksie has learned to expect good (or at least moderately acceptable) songs to come from his mother. And so he has passed the stage of letting me sing him to sleep with sweet loving hymns or lullabies or any of the old favorites. He almost always demands an entirely new song, composed in the moment. Though sometimes, if he’s feeling extra generous, he lets me sing the song I wrote for him about his dad.
I love my dad, and my daddy loves me.
He loves to run and play with me…
The song goes through three verses of all the fun that Brooksie and his dad have together before it comes to the final verse: the sappy, sentimental one. (I’m in charge here, I need to make somebody cry. Even if it’s just me.)
Some day I will be so big and tall.
I’ll be strong and I’ll be brave, just like Dad.
And maybe I will have a little boy too.
I will kiss and snuggle him and this is what he’ll do—
He’ll sing ‘I love my dad and my daddy loves me.’
I know. Tears. Brooksie asked for that song the other night and just as I was about to sing, his older brother on the top bunk chimed in. “Mom, I don’t want you to sing that song. It makes me sad.”
“Why does it make you sad, buddy?” I asked the little face peering over the edge of the railing.
“Because I don’t want to get older and be a daddy. I want to stay a kid.”
Getting older is scary. Sometimes it is simply some far-flung floating idea. And sometimes we look in the mirror and realize that (shockingly) it is happening to us this very moment, this very hour. My almost-six-year-old gets the fear of that. We can’t stay babies forever, can we? We grow and learn and get stronger and braver. And, over time, each day makes marks us and changes us and refines us.
That face peering from the top bunk does not want to grow up. It’s in human nature to fear the loss of childhood. That’s why we tell the stories of brave children on big adventures, why Peter Pan—the boy who never grew up but still is somehow independent—speaks to children and grown ups alike. This is the question that’s been asked on every glossy magazine cover and will always continue to be asked: How do we grow old with grace?
Maybe the question is not how to do it with grace. Maybe it’s how to grow old in grace. On grace. Surrounded by grace. Within God’s loving, restoring presence.
I didn’t have a good answer for the boy who doesn’t want to grow up, who holds an already-sorrow for the loss of his present-life, even though he cannot yet articulate what he’s afraid of losing.
The truth is we’re all afraid of losing this moment, this stage of life. We’re afraid of our changing faces, our changing bodies, our changing families and friendships. We will all be asked to lose people we love. We will be asked to lose parts of our ourselves we love.
And how do enclose ourselves in grace for those coming futures? How do we grow up into grace?
I’m always undone by St. Patrick’s Breastplate, that gorgeous prayer from the 5th (or some argue, the 8th) century. This is my favorite stanza:
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me.
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
To grow into grace is to grow into the circle of Christ that already surrounds us. Above, beneath, behind, within. In quiet, in danger, in friendship, in the faces of strangers. We belong to the keeper of Time. We belong to the maker of aging.
We are invited into the daily work of growing old—inside the One outside of Time itself, the One within and around and beside us.
The invitation is not to age with grace. No, it is to age into the grace that is already offered, already here for the taking.