Young Nation

Continuing her series on themes in contemporary culture, Rachel Helen Smith examines how the desire to be young again continually appears in contemporary culture and how Christians can respond.

Once upon a time, in 1997 to be precise, Tony Blair proudly declared, "I want us to be a young nation again." Little did he realise that people would take his vision rather literally. Since then we've seen a nation of adults regress to their teenage years.

Have you spotted this trend? Maybe you've seen grown men riding to work on micro-scooters or breakdancing. Maybe you've seen middle aged women wearing Topshop skinny jeans and singing along to Jay-Z. Maybe you've visited the Millennium Experience at the Dome, a tent crammed full of childish entertainment, or attended a School Disco club night. There's no denying that youth culture dominates British society, and no-one is exempt from the decree to reclaim their youth. In fact, the phenomenon is so pervasive that there's a whole new lexicon to describe it: kidults, the manchild, adultescence, middle youth, the Saga lout, growing down.

I want us to be a young nation again

- Tony Blair

Since the millennium, adults have once again embraced the joys of bouncy castles, space hoppers and roller discos. Theme parks and adult playgrounds are becoming increasingly popular and, for the first time ever, the toy industry is producing more products for adults than children. Childood favourites like fish finger sandwiches have reappeared on the menus of exclusive bistros and milkshakes on the lists at cocktail bars. Adverts encourage people to 'act your shoe size, not your age'. We are all trying to avoid maturity, but are we kidding ourselves?

We all know that this is happening in a world where the old are living longer. It's estimated that around 7% of the world's population is now aged 65 or older, and this number will only rise. Danny Dorling's Population 10 Billion and Stephen Emmott's Ten Billion prompted panics about how we will continue to support our expanding population as the human lifespan increases still further. Yet our culture shies away from the realities of an expanding older cohort.

Instead, the grey-haired generation switched their bus passes for skateboard in Good Charlotte's 'Boys and Girls' music video. Helen Mirren demonstrated her 'twerking' skills, Twiggy twirled and giggled in M&S adverts and the 'cougar' Courteney Cox posed in a '40 is the new 20' t-shirt. Seventy-something actor Patrick Stewart tweeted a photo of himself in a ball pool, Mayor of London Boris Johnson was caught on a zip wire and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown claimed to be a fan of the young indie rock band the Arctic Monkeys. Even the least likely candidates seemed to be emulating the kidult way of life, and the British public followed suit.

We are Infinite

A number of recent academic books have asked: why we are so obsessed with staying young? What causes us to fill our films, magazines and songs with stories of the young and beautiful? Why do we name our fashion brands 'Forever 21' and our perfumes 'Youth Dew'?

It's an old idea that your youth is the best time of your life. It is associated with a chance to be wild, energetic and carefree. You have plenty of disposable income, no pressing responsibilities and can live for the moment. It comes with a feeling that the whole world is yours for the taking. In the 2012 film of Stephen Chobsky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the narrator Charlie captures the feeling of the possibilities of youth when he describes driving along with his friends at night, with his head poking out the sunroof. The music is blaring and the wind is rushing through his hair, and he says: "In this moment, I swear, we are infinite." The quote was reproduced on hoodies, phone cases and wall stickers, and shared all over the internet. It captured the desires of twenty-first century consumers: we want to believe we can live forever young.

Perhaps it is because we're worried what happens next. As Lana Del Ray puts it in her song for the soundtrack to the 2013 film version of The Great Gatsby: "Will you still love me when I'm no longer young and beautiful?" Will anyone? Is 40 really the new 20, or does life end at 30? We knew what answer we wanted to hear. "Don't tell me our youth is running out", pleaded Foxes in her 2013 hit, "It's only just begun."

As Christians, how should we react to a culture that encourages us to retreat into childhood? Should we embrace this return to youthful living or be suspicious of its lure? And what do Dr Who, The Muppets or Pirates of the Caribbean have to do with it? A look at the component parts of the all-pervasive trend for adultescence should help us to answer some of these questions. Are you sitting comfortably? Then let's begin.

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The Manchild

Britain's adults were refusing to grow up. At the head of the revolution was the 'manchild', a figure typified by irreverent pranksters like Jeremy Clarkson, Jack Black, Chris Evans and Russell Brand. The manchild is a male who enjoys watching South Park and The Simpsons, reading Maxim, drinking beer and eating takeaway pizza. He wears hoodies and trainers, probably because he doesn't know how to iron a shirt. He tells immature jokes, watches the football with the lads and obsessively plays computer games.

The stereotype seemed to be at least partially supported by the statistics. In one online survey, 61 per cent of British males said they still played with toys aimed at children, perhaps explaining the immense popularity of films like Toy Story and The Lego Movie with adult audiences. More surprisingly, a 2010 survey by the hotel chain Travelodge found that a quarter of men take their teddy bears with them on business trips. The 2012 film Ted played on this fact in a crass exploration of how clinging to our childhood desires can stop us growing up. The plot focused on John Bennett, a young man held back from building an adult life for himself by his animate childhood teddy bear.

a quarter of men take their teddy bears with them on business trips

But Ted was not the only plot to explore this phenomenon. Other loveable but clueless oafs included Joey from Friends, Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat, and many of the males from Nick Hornby's novels and Judd Apatow's films. Academic books such as Manning Up and Men to Boys also discussed the manchild, comparing him with women, who appeared confident, competent and reliable. If a female equivalent to the manchild did exist, she was found in the girls from the film Bridesmaids, or represented by Mavis in Young Adult, a film advertised under the slogan, "Everyone gets old. Not everyone grows up."

Alongside the craze for 'middle youth' was talk of a younger 'Peter Pan Generation'. Thanks to the financial crisis, many people in their twenties and thirties were struggling to find jobs, buy homes or settle down into long-term relationships. A record number of them are unable to move out; in 2014, 26% of adults aged between 20 and 34 were still living with their parents. A study by The Sunday Times concluded that young people are now reaching adulthood four and a half years later than in the 1970s. Rather than mourning this change, films like This is 40 and I Give it a Year suggested that adult life was not all it's cracked up to be anyway. So whilst their parents rode skateboards and played with toy helicopters, young professionals sat on the sofa in their fleecy onesies and picked up a children's story book.

Crossover Fiction

Since 2000, the grown-ups of Britain have fallen in love with children's stories all over again. In part, it was thanks to a boy with a magic wand and a lightning-shaped scar. Harry Potter, the famed creation of J.K. Rowling, has been responsible for the sale of over 450 million books, the creation of the highest grossing film franchise of all time, the construction of two theme parks and the installation of half a trolley poking out of a wall at London's Kings Cross Station. The young wizard was a phenomenon that managed not just to get children reading, but to bewitch adults too; in Britain separate editions of the books were released with child- and adult-friendly covers.

the grown-ups of Britain have fallen in love with children's stories all over again

In 2009, The Bookseller claimed that in a top ten chart of the decade's bestselling books, Rowling took seven of the spots (and Dan Brown another two). But Harry Potter was not the only children's book series to be embraced by adults. Tenth place went to another young adult book: Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, now also a West End show. More followed: Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, Suzanne Collin's The Hunger Games, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl and Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

In the cinema, classic children's literature reigned. Lewis Carroll and Dr Seuss, Roald Dahl, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis were all successfully reimagined for the big screen. Fairy stories also made a comeback, with dark new versions appearing in quick succession, including Snow White and the Huntsman and Maleficent. The opening sequence of Disney's Enchanted featured a lavish pop-up book that seemed to welcome viewers into the land of make-believe, and we willingly accepted the invitation.

Animation for adults

Alongside fairy tales, stories of animated animals continued to have a broad appeal for adults and children alike, with Ice Age, Madagascar, Shark Tale, Kung Fu Panda, Ratatouille, Rio and Happy Feet jetting viewers across the globe. A popular TV version of The Gruffalo drew large audiences, and Wallace and Gromit received the big screen treatment. Even franchises that refused to use CGI, like The Muppets, continued to draw huge crowds of grown-ups to the cinema.

It was Shrek, released in 2001, that was heralded as a turning point in the creation of children's films for adults. Mike Myers voiced a grumpy but lovable green ogre, while Eddie Murphy voiced his sidekick, a talkative donkey. The story parodied the classic fairy tale and was jam-packed with grown-up cultural references and adult humour. As the Shrek franchise progressed, this subtext seemed to take over, causing some critics to question whether the films were suitable for children at all. The same question was asked of Monsters Inc., another franchise featuring a loveable green monster, which also subverted the idea of goodies and baddies. The grouchy green ogre and the monsters under the bed were no longer to be feared, but to be laughed at and loved.

It's official: kidults really are ruling the world

It wasn't just the humour of animated films that attempted to engage adult viewers. Many grown men confessed to crying at the trailer for Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are, the heartbreaking depiction of ageing in the opening minutes of Up and tender portrayal of fatherhood in Finding Nemo. Most discussed was Toy Story 3, with almost all of the newspapers offering theories on why men found it such a tear-jerker. Whatever the cause, they all agreed that something powerful happens to us on an emotional level when we watch animated films.

At the head of the digital animation boom are rival companies DreamWorks and Pixar. Pixar has made over $8 billion and won over 25 Oscars. It has become known as the world's coolest place to work. Their complex is a playground for adults, full of giant armchairs, pool tables, table tennis tables and playhouses, where employees zip to each other's offices on mini-scooters. It's official: kidults really are ruling the world.

Capes and Capers

We weren't just reading children's books and watching animated films, but we also returned to another youthful pursuit: comic books. Graphic novels began to be taken seriously when, in 2001, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth won the Guardian First Book Award. In 2007, Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis became a critically acclaimed film. In 2012, two comic-style novels were nominated in the Costa Book Awards, one of which took a category prize. It seemed that comics were growing up.

However, alongside this development, traditional comics were also breaking into mainstream culture. No longer the preserve of bespectacled fan-boys, spandex-clad figures stepped off the pages of comic books and onto the big screen. When X-Men was released in 2000 it was a surprise hit. Since then, we've come to expect several CGI-enhanced superhero blockbusters every year. DC Comics and Warner Bros. have offered Superman, Batman, and the sinister V for Vendetta. Marvel Comics teamed up with 20th Century Fox to bring us several more X-Men films as well as Fantastic Four and Daredevil. They worked with Disney on a number of films, including The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy. Also from Marvel came numerous Spider-Man remakes, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, the Incredible Hulk and even a movie for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The figure of the masked crime-fighter became so ubiquitous that he was soon parodied, as in the irreverent Kick-Ass and Disney's animated comedy The Incredibles.

On the small screen, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., an American show, took Marvel into people's homes, while Heroes created a new mythology of its own. Children's shows like Disney's Kim Possible and Cartoon Network's The Powerpuff Girls also joined the trend. In the UK, My Hero provided a parody of the genre, and comedic comic book themes references were used to advertise everything from cars to smoothies. Doctor Who was also relaunched in 2005 and soon became one of the most popular shows on British television. Whilst true fans argue that the Doctor is not a traditional superhero, he seems to fit the basic description offered by Marvel writer Stan Lee: "a person who uses his power to protect good people from bad".

For some, the superhero trend was an encouragement that each of us needs to find the hero within ourselves. Soon the political organisation Fathers for Justice began protesting dressed in superhero fancy dress, and several newspapers began reporting on the Real Life Superheroes project, in which ordinary citizens spend their evenings fighting crime in costume. T-shirts, headphones and pyjamas emblazoned with superhero logos filled the shops, so now you too could rip open your shirt to reveal a superhero costume hidden beneath it. As a nation we relived our childhood fantasies of dressing up and saving the day, whether by taking action ourselves, or through the heroes on our screen.

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Generation Gap

Faced with the twenty-first century, we donned our Superman socks, jumped on our scooter and headed to see the latest kidlit adaptation at the cinema. The fashions and fantasies of childhood gave us respite from responsibilities and wrinkles. In the world of children's storybooks, there was nothing that couldn't be fixed by the wave of a magic wand, a sprinkling of fairy dust, or the appearance of a hero to save the day. Back in the real world we used Botox, games consoles and teddy bears to cling to our youth and to try reversing the ageing process.

ephebiphobia ... the extreme fear of teenagers

Ironically, the result was a widening in the divisions between the generations. Older people became scared of young people, demonising them by banning hoodies and installing Mosquito anti-loitering devices. A new term, ephebiphobia, was coined to describe the extreme fear of teenagers that developed during the first decade of the twenty-first century. By contrast, older people felt increasingly marginalised in a society dominated by youth culture. In the media, 'ageism' was constantly debated. Demos, a major British think-tank declared: "Age is to the twenty-first century what social class was to the twentieth century."

There were some hints of discontent at the situation. A worldwide survey in 2012 found that 63% of consumers agreed with the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, that society's obsession with youth has gotten out of hand. There was a significant media backlash when the ninth series of The Apprentice was won by a young woman planning to set up a chain of Botox clinics to help people look younger. The actress Dame Maggie Smith publicly berated Hollywood for ignoring older audiences and it surprised everyone by answering with a burst of so-called 'greycoms': Song for Marion, Quartet, The Love Punch, Hope Springs and Le Weekend. Some, such as Nebraska and Amour were praised for their unflinching presentation of the ageing process. Others – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Calendar Girls for instance – were insistent that even the more mature members of society could have fun. The message was still clear: youth was the ultimate goal. Those who felt isolated by this focus should learn to embrace youthfulness in their own lives. As Doctor Who once put it: "There's no point being grown-up if you can't be childish sometimes."

Forever Young

We've seen that several comic films addressed the issues of ageing, or failing too. What about the darker or sadder side of these topics? Two films in particular took their musings to a more philosophical level. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) begins with the tale of a clock that runs backwards. This becomes a metaphor for the life of Benjamin, a man trapped in a body that grows younger rather than older. Beginning as a wrinkled, elderly-looking baby, Benjamin spends his life regressing towards infanthood whilst those he loves age and die around him. He's faced with the same eternal truths as them: life is inexplicable, nothing lasts forever and "we all end up in diapers". Rather than envying him, those who love him feel sorry for him.

Another historic story retold for the big screen, Dorian Grey, an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's famous novel, was released in 2009. Although the film received mixed reviews, its gothic setting and sinister depictions of decay were unsettling. A portrait is painted of the young, beautiful Dorian, who flippantly comments that he would give his soul to the devil if the painting would age instead of him. His wish comes true; miraculously the painting develops scabs, scars and boils whilst Dorian remains perfect and unchanged. Maggots spew from its eyes, saliva from its lips, and blood from its hand. It seems not just to age, but to reveal Dorian's sins in the form of physical defects. Whilst he enjoys a life of hedonistic pleasure, the figure in the painting becomes more and more deformed. Dorian hides this terrible secret from those around him, but the pressure begins to show. Just how much is he willing to endure in order to maintain his youthful looks?

The themes explored in these films chimed perfectly with the zeitgeist. We all long to stay young, or to stay looking young. But would it really be so appealing to find ourselves artificially frozen in time whilst everyone else moves on? Or to finally get our wish for eternal youth granted and find ourselves sliding backwards into childhood?

Fear of Ageing

It's clear that our society has a fundamental fear of ageing. We view old age as a problem to be avoided at all costs. We're frightened that ageing entails becoming ill, weak, lonely, confused and needy. In a culture that places a high value on independence and freedom, we hate the idea of being dependent on others. Yet more and more of us are living longer, and this figure is set to increase. As medicine progresses, the human lifespan may still increase. As surgery becomes more affordable, we will look younger. As social work develops we will have more choices for longer. And yet if current trends continue, and flights to Switzerland remain cheap, our right to end it all for ourselves will be extended. According to Will Self, who was interviewed for the BBC documentary, "It's not without accident that during [the last decade] the issue of assisted suicide came back and back and back again to haunt British society."

when Robbie Williams sang, "I hope I'm old before I die", he was being entirely counter-cultural

However, at least part of the conversation about staying young is really a conversation about looking young. A recent study found that women begin to worry about signs of ageing from the age of 29. They soon begin to search for the elixir of youth at Botox parties and in the chemists' aisles, where the release of new anti-ageing products causes riots. On our screens, women showing signs of ageing are pumped full of collagen, Botox, and eventually hidden away altogether. TV presenter Miriam O'Reilly became a well-known example after she was dropped from the BBC's Countryfile, sued them for age discrimination, and won. Her actions triggered a society-wide conversation about the lack of older female role-models in the media. Nonetheless, it didn't stop Heidi Klum arriving at her 2013 Halloween party dressed as an old lady, complete with wrinkles and varicose veins. It seems that natural signs of ageing are now deemed to be not just unfortunate, but downright scary.

In her School of Life book How to Age (2014), Anne Karpf argues that this obsession with looking young is inseparable from the connected problem of our neglect of the elderly. In fact it is the same word, gerontophobia, which refers both to a fear of ageing and to a fear of the elderly. Since the early 2000s, more focus has been placed on reports of 'elder abuse' and neglect, on a national and an individual level. These range from the extreme to the simply careless. Over a million people, we are told, cannot afford to heat their homes in the winter. Many go for days on end without speaking to another person. There are repeated complaints that young people no longer give up their seat on the bus for older people. Far from showing older people honour and respect, we often treat them with indifference, irritation and even revulsion. It was enough to prompt TV personality Cilla Black to declare that she hoped to die by the age of 75; she was 60 at the time. It seems that when Robbie Williams sang, "I hope I'm old before I die", he was being entirely counter-cultural.

Become like Children

What does the Bible have to say? Firstly, it is clear that childhood is a time to be cherished, and that children themselves are to be treasured. The gospels famously record an incident where people brought children before Jesus to be prayed for:

Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, 'Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.' (Luke 18:15-17; see also Matthew 19:13-15)

His phrase "let the children come to me" is often quoted as an example for the Bible's positive view of children. However, Jesus is saying something much more radical – that for someone to enter the kingdom of heaven they themselves need to become like a child. He repeats the same idea when the disciples question him further about the kingdom:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, 'Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.'

He goes on to explain that there are serious consequences for those who do not treat children well. We are to emulate them in humility, not arguing about who is the greatest (Matthew 9:33-37) but serving others selflessly. There is much we can learn, he says later, from the words that come "out of the mouth of babies and infants" (Psalm 8:2). In their weakness and humility, children are good examples of how we should approach God. Their innocence, enthusiasm and curiosity teach us to wonder anew at God's creation. Their trusting nature reminds us that we need to rely totally on God to provide for us and guide us. When we think that we have got it all worked out for ourselves, and fail to look to God as our loving father, we have got things the wrong way around. Indeed, G.K. Chesterton once wrote: "It may be that [God] has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we."

childhood is a time to be cherished

For the young themselves, there is a vote of confidence and a clear directive: "Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity" (1 Timothy 4:12). There's no time for childish temper tantrums and selfish requests, nor for pettiness and silliness. Nor is stubborn disobedience acceptable, as the commandment to "honour your father and your mother" makes clear (Exodus 20:12). Children and young people are to be examples of love, faith and purity: certainly no easy task.

A Crown of Gray

Youth is to be enjoyed but, according to the Bible, ageing is also a natural part of human life. Older people have their own particular blessings from God: "Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days" (Job 12:12). Our culture may have forgotten the wealth of wisdom and experience that old people are blessed with, but the Bible reminds us that they have much to teach us. It even claims that the physical signs of ageing are a sign of God's blessing. "Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life", says Proverbs 16:31. A few chapters later we are told that it is "the splendour of old men" (Proverbs 20:29).

In fact, in the Old Testament, communities that contain members of the older generation are often those favoured by God. God promises that when he dwells with his people, "Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age". For this reason, alongside the directives to honour our parents, Proverbs teaches: "Show your fear of God by standing up in the presence of elderly people and showing respect for the aged" (Proverbs 17:6). More importantly, the Bible exhorts us to care for the aged, starting with our own families. We are to encourage older people, to honour them and to comfort them.

Ageing is not something to be feared

1 Timothy is unequivocal about this, stating: "If a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God [...] if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Timothy 5:4, 8).

Several times in the Bible we see people crying out to God to remember them when they get old: "Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent" (Psalm 71:9); "So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me" (Psalm 71:18). Yet God promises that he is unchanging and ever faithful: "Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save" (Isaiah 46:4). Ageing is not something to be feared, but to be eagerly anticipated.

Grow Up

In fact, the Bible is clear that while we should sometimes be childlike, we should not stay as children; Jesus calls us to come to physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual maturity. As C.S. Lewis almost said:

God wants us to get out of the nursery and grow up. […] We think our childish toys bring us all the happiness there is and the nursery is the whole world. But something must drive us out of the nursery to the world of others.

Ephesians 4 explains that spiritual leaders and teachers are given to us by God in order to help us mature "until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children." Putting aside our naivety, capriciousness and immaturity, "we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-16).

"When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child", says Paul. "When I became a man, I gave up childish ways" (1 Corinthians 13:11). Elsewhere, he is derogatory about those who refuse to grow up, whether mentally or spiritually: "But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, or you are still of the flesh" (1 Corinthians 3:1-3). A refusal to mature is a sign that we are characterised by 'the flesh', or relying on our own unredeemed human nature rather than on God.

When I became a man, I gave up childish ways

- St Paul

The same metaphor appears again Hebrews: "Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil" (Hebrews 5:12-15). Growing up is about learning to understand God's teaching, and comprehending the difference between right and wrong.

What else does maturity in Christ entail? According to 1 Peter 2:2, it begins with a desire for God's sustenance: "Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation." A desire to know more of God and his word is, in itself, a sure sign that we are maturing. As we draw closer to God, he allows us to overcome our childish tendencies towards malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander. From there, 2 Peter 3 explains, maturing involves diligence, patience and perseverance. It requires us to become steadfast in our beliefs and blameless in our actions. It means that we will "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" and come to understand the Scriptures.

In all of this we are like babies learning to walk, one wobbly step at a time. God is teaching us, "as beloved children", to imitate him and to "walk in love" (Ephesians 5:1-2). This ability to love others selflessly, as Christ did, is the ultimate sign of God-led maturity. Anyone who thinks that he is standing firmly in this regard should "take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12), for spiritual maturity is not something that we achieve overnight. Rather, it is a life-long process.

Day by Day

"Brothers, do not be children in your thinking", commands 1 Corinthians 14:20. As grown-up Christians we can indulge in the comforts of childhood whilst being aware that many children's stories have important messages for us too. And when we're tempted to just snuggle up in a onesie with a fish-finger sandwich to watch Disney films, we can do so without the fear of ageing that is plaguing our culture. We have no need to mimic Peter Pan, Dorian Grey or Benjamin Button. For God promises us that he offers something far more important than eternal youth. Paul understood this when he wrote: "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4:16).

© 2015 Rachel Helen Smith

This article is reproduced here by the kind permission of the author.