Growing Yourself Up by Jenny Brown
Resolving to be more mature
Are you a New Year’s resolutions kind of person? I am. I like taking stock and focusing on what’s important and what I’d like to change. I’m also old enough that I don’t stress myself out too much if some, or most of them get abandoned by now. If I can make one real change and it sticks, then that’s a win. Over the years I’ve been able to include running and reading the Bible more. And while I fall off the wagon with both at times, I always come back to them because they renew me.
John Dickson, writing about the positive benefits of making New Year’s resolutions (on his Facebook page on 31 December 2018) says, “Any improvements in your relationships (and probably in your body, soul, or mind) will benefit those around you. Setting such goals, then, is potentially a kindness to others.” I like the way Dickson links individual goals to positive effects on your relationship systems. He also adds, “In life, there are just three modes to choose from: decline, maintenance, or improvement. I know which I'd prefer.” If we aren’t growing toward maturity then there’s a good chance we’ll be going in the opposite direction. We attempt to help ourselves then - or lift ourselves up a notch on the maturity continuum - not for smug brownie points but as a kindness to others.
The Single Young Adult
I really enjoyed the chapter on learning how to relate wisely to yourself. Jenny writes, “The period of being single after leaving home can provide a vast array of opportunities to practise using inner resources to calm, reassure and provide direction, without using a relationship as a security blanket.” (p. 67) There is lots of common sense and helpful advice here for the modern single person transitioning from living with family to forging an independent life on your own. Brown advises avoiding distractions like shopping, social networking and drinking to manage transition tensions and instead “practice using ... biological resources (such as breathing, stretching and exercising) to relax ... minds and bodies.” (p.67) Brown is big on using the God-given tools we all have to help manage worry and stress, like our breath. You might like to try focussing on it for a moment now. Just breathe normally. In and out. Is your breathing shallow? Just notice it. Don’t try to change anything at first. How is your breath? How are you going?
Being Clear About Values Helps Decision Making
Another important factor in managing worry and stress is developing a strong sense of what our values are and trying to align our behaviour with them. “Any effort as a young adult to work on developing life priorities, principles and clarifying meaning (i.e. philosophy, faith and spirituality), will go some way to preventing big and small decision-making becoming overwhelming.” (p.68) As a Christian we look to the person of Jesus to give us true answers to life’s big questions. Jesus says multiple times in the gospels, “Have no fear.” Indeed a massive theme of the Bible is not to be anxious or worried about anything but to commit our lives to God in prayer and trust the one who made us and cares for us. The writer of Isaiah says, “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ (Isaiah 41:10)
An Opportunity to Work on Balance
I found it particularly helpful in this section on singleness to have Brown go through the important portfolios we all need to manage to relate well to ourselves: our health and relaxation, our finances, our domestic situation, our work, our significant relationships and social relationships. As a Christian I would add to these portfolios: our personal walk with God; and our life in community with other Christians, ie. church. I think no matter our age and stage it’s worth examining these areas annually and asking ourselves, “How am I going? What areas could do with attention and improvement? Brown has these specific questions for you to pause and consider:
· If you’re currently single, how are you working to develop your own responsible functioning versus looking to others to fill the gaps?
· If you’re reading this chapter and you’re married, what gaps in managing independently would be exposed if you were to become single?
· If you are a parent, are you filling in gaps for your children that might impair their ability to function for themselves one day as mature adults?
If I were to add faith reflection questions along these lines:
· If you’re feeling like life is smooth sailing, what gaps in your faith would be exposed if life were to suddenly become harder?
· If life feels hard right now, what is that teaching you about your relationship with God?
Managing Anxiety Overload
The great challenge of adulthood is to manage to juggle these different portfolios in a healthy way. “Learning how to relate well to ourselves requires a conscious effort to spread our energy across all the aspects of life rather than turning one challenge into an all-consuming project.” (p. 73) As a child I was taught by my parents to think my way out of situations. This might sound a bit unusual but it brought my worries down to size. A common phrase of my mother’s is still, “What’s the bottom line?” Doing a quick forecast of the worst case scenario and facing that helped me to focus on the action I was going to pursue without being overly concerned about the results. It stays with me as an adult and I wonder if as Christians we could all do with taking more advantage of the incredible family resources - of being a member of God’s family - that we can use to cut our anxiety down to size. In 1 Peter 5:7 we are told to, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” How are you going at doing that? What do you do practically to hand your worries and fears over to God?
Separating the ‘What If’ from the ‘What Now’?
Without perhaps consciously realising it my parents were teaching me a wonderful strategy for separating the ‘what if’ from the ‘what now’. Brown writes, “The degree to which we live life attuned to what might go wrong in the future, especially in our relationships, has a direct link to our capacity to deal with life’s challenges.’ (p.74) If we focus too much on the ‘what if’ it can hamper our ability to focus on ‘the now’ and enjoy it, as well as do what needs doing.
In next week’s post we’ll wrap this book by looking at the blessing of mature friendship and how Brown’s book gives Christians, and all people, a new and helpful lens for looking at life at every age and stage.
Meet Katie Stringer
Katie loves books, baking and beaches. She leads a Bible Study with young mums at her local Anglican church in the inner west community of Sydney. She also teaches the Bible at two local High schools and enjoys hearing what teenagers think about Jesus. Please pray for Katie as she starts studying at Moore College this year.