The New Neverland: Why We Never Grow Up

At one point or another, most of us have seen or read the adventures of Peter Pan. In the exciting world of Neverland, Peter Pan never gets old, and his adventures can continue indefinitely. We’ve been conditioned to idealize this model for our lives. We worship youth to the degree that we never want to grow up ourselves. Only in our case, perpetual youth isn’t as exciting as it is in Neverland; it’s plain childish.

Paul Washer, an outspoken pastor and proponent of turning back to biblical, counter-culture lifestyles, makes a solid case for how we have invented the term adolescence. We want all the privileges of adulthood without all the responsibility, but we simply can’t have it both ways. Especially in those years of early adulthood, we want more independence and control, yet our culture promotes behaviors that fail to equip us for healthy adult life.

Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days. (Job 12:12)

The Bible commonly speaks of foolishness in terms of traits often equated with the qualities of youth. Even science correlates with the biblical principle that youths inherently lack wisdom. The human brain isn’t finished developing until a person’s mid 20s. This is why teens lack the same decision-making skills as adults. They assess potential consequences at a slower rate, and as a result, decisions made in haste often overlook the risks involved.

I find myself increasingly frustrated at the lack of maturity in this generation, particularly among Christians. A world that is bent towards self-centeredness cannot be expected to uphold the standards of virtuous living espoused by believers, but Christians should have higher expectations for themselves.

Unfortunately, so many young adults are content to while away their time on the internet, partying, or generally indulging in themselves. Psychologists have dubbed this Peter Pan Syndrome, where grown adults perpetually exhibit childish characteristics, not wanting or willing to grow into adulthood emotionally or mentally. Among Christians, this is particularly prevalent spiritually.

Why can’t we be bothered to spend time alone with God but waste hours on social media? Why are we too broke to give to the church, but have the money to spend on videogames and the latest fashions? Our lives revolve around ourselves, which is precisely why we can’t grow up.

There is a desperate need for discipleship. Washer points out that it is not just ineffective, but disastrous to have children and adolescents grouped together at all times. Our culture defines itself today by how it distinguishes itself from the former generation, creating an ever-widening gap. Society segregates us by age group from the time we are born. We have been conditioned to seek out friends only within our age group. Healthy mentorship relationships have become a rare gem.

What differentiates a child from an adult is how they perceive themselves and their place in the world. A child perceives himself as the center of his environment, and parents spend nearly two decades trying to broaden their child’s horizons so he can see that the world does not revolve around him. Parents invest their time and energy into teaching their children to show consideration for others, and to have compassion and sympathy for their peers. Unfortunately, this process has been severely stunted.

The media promotes an idealized picture of life as it centers on the self, so much so that anything else is portrayed as less important, meaningful, or exciting. True adulthood, with its responsibilities and discipline, seems boring and dull. We spend so much of our time trying to “find” ourselves that we miss the bigger picture of life. It’s a deception that robs us of the deeper satisfaction that comes with adulthood and working diligently to reap its rewards. Instead we are so discontent with the mundane realities of life that we continue to indulge in an escapist attitude.

The mantra of living while we’re young only reinforces the mistaken idea that the most enjoyable season of life is our youth, and that we should extend it as long as possible.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

Childhood and adolescence are a defined season of preparation for a life of service. Christians who are reluctant to begin this new season of life and merge into adulthood should examine their hearts. Serving others is a core value of Christianity. You cannot attain spiritual maturity without grasping and applying this concept.

Sadly, the church today is filled with spiritual infants. During one of his sermons, Francis Chan once made the illustration of a mother breastfeeding her children. We often rely so heavily on the pastor for spiritual nourishment that we fail to grow in our personal relationship with Christ. A new believer has need of this nourishment early on, but the spiritually mature believer pursues intimacy with God and invests time in prayer and the study of God’s Word, and puts his faith into action. All Christians can and should find encouragement in one another through fellowship, teaching, and discipleship, but the mature Christian does not rely on other fallen men and women to prop up his faith.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. (1 Cor 13:11)

What precedes this verse is the great love chapter in the Bible, describing in no uncertain terms what love is and isn’t. The child loves only himself, and doesn’t understand the sacrificial love of Christ; the mature believer understands that everything is fulfilled through love for his neighbor.

Please don’t misunderstand. Before you go tossing your video games in the trash or donating your clothes, I don’t think any of that is inherently sinful. There is nothing in the Bible that tells us we may not watch television or enjoy similar activities. That being said, we should enjoy these things in moderatio. If they promote behaviors and thoughts contrary to Scripture, or become a distraction, then they should be avoided and possibly cut out of our lives.

Adulthood isn’t all work and no play. It’s simply enjoying the blessings of life in a healthy context and moderating oneself. Wisdom is described as the correct application of knowledge, which comes with time and experience. However, experience should not be equated with wisdom in itself.

We must learn to disassociate adulthood from dreary, soul-sucking responsibilities and duties that sap energy and time. When we put away childish and selfish desires, we have the opportunity to have a greater appreciation for lasting values and virtues that bring meaning to our lives and benefit those around us. We don’t live in Neverland, so let’s stop acting like it; God has greater adventures in store for us in every season of life.

© 2015

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