Editor’s note: This is one of Graves’ occasional letters to his grandchildren.
Dear Katie, Claire and Andy,
When Katie turned 16 in August, and then we saw the beautiful picture of her in a “grown-up” dress for the homecoming dance, I saw new evidence that each of you is growing up. How could you three be growing up when your Grandma and I are still the age we were when you all were born?
Some days, you each are in a big hurry to grow up – to do and be what you think “growing up” lets you do and be. On other days, you don’t want to grow up at all. For your own reasons, you want life to stay just the same as it is today. These rapidly conflicting feelings are – can you believe it? – part of growing up, becoming mature.
In the next number of years, Katie, Claire and Andy, you will reach your physical “maturity.” That will be a little bit different for each of you, because every person matures at a little different rate. “Mature” is a good word that comes from a Latin word that means “ripe, timely, seasonable.”
In due season, at the right time, you will become ripened, like fruits, vegetables, grains that ripen so they can be enjoyed as food. Your physical maturity allows you to do things you are not able to at 16, 13 and 10 years old. But you have to be patient with your bodies, even as you find ways to push them toward maturity.
A similar process occurs when we speak of mental, emotional and spiritual maturity. We have to be patient with ourselves in those forms of maturity too, even as we push ourselves to grow up mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Here’s a simple way to say this:
In math, the first thing you learned was what a number is. Then you learned how to add and subtract numbers. But what if you stopped right there? What if today you still didn’t know anything about how to multiply numbers or do other advanced forms of math?
You’d be stuck at the add-subtract level. You wouldn’t realize there was a wider, maybe more exciting world of math that you didn’t know about. You would be less enriched because of the lack of that knowledge.
Kids, I strongly believe the same thing often happens with our spiritual maturity. Here’s a little secret: Spiritual maturity takes a much longer time than physical, mental or emotional maturity. As I approach 72 years old, I realize the spiritual maturity I had at age 52 left some big gaps for growth.
I got along OK then, but my self-understanding and God-understanding are fuller today than they were 20 years ago. And I expect them to grow even more the older I get!
But for that to happen, I need to keep asking myself – as I’m asking you also – this: What if spirituality maturity is far more than I’ve settled for?
If a person isn’t willing to ask that question, I suspect that person may live in a too-small, unhealthy spiritual space. Some “holy discontent” is important if a person is going to live in a spiritual space big enough for God too.
You three have been taught many traditional spiritual practices, routines, exercises – some specifically Catholic practices, plus others like Scripture reading and prayer that all Christians are encouraged to use.
But if we do those practices only at an entry-level, add-subtract level, and don’t push ourselves beyond those levels, we will settle for a very small experience of God – and ourselves. God – and you – are greater than that!
Growing in love, Grampa
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