There's No Backing into Adulthood


I guess I realized I was an adult when I found myself in East Tennessee with a new wife and no job. I had graduated from college four weeks earlier, and then got married just two weeks prior to loading up my grandfather’s Chevy pickup and launching out into the great unknown of, what I took to be, adulthood. We moved to Tennessee so I could go to graduate school. There was a little money left over from the honeymoon, which I thought would last us a month or so, providing we could eat on fifty dollars a week. I figured a month would be plenty of time for us both to find jobs and start living like grown-ups.

It occurs to me now that foresight was not a virtue I possessed at twenty-two, because I did not, as I had anticipated, find a job. My wife, at nineteen, already much more readily employable than I, found a part time job as a hostess at the restaurant in the Holiday Inn. Her income, it will not surprise you to know, didn’t turn out to be enough to sustain us. And so, with a nearly empty refrigerator and no prospects for employment on the horizon, we packed up the truck and headed back to Detroit to live with my in-laws.

We didn’t stay too long—though her parents could not have been nicer. After four months we’d both found jobs making sufficient money to move to a small apartment—her working in a doctor’s office, and me in a Speedway.

One might reasonably inquire as to why a situation that resulted in me moving back in with my in-laws made me aware of my status as an adult. Generally speaking, such a move, at least psychologically, means a failure to live up to the standards set for grown-up living. However, it strikes me that though we had folks helping us take care of our basic needs, no one was going to parachute in to right our listing financial ship. A little assistance here and there to help us keep our heads above water, but nobody offered to buy us a boat. It felt lonely at first (and still does sometimes).

But what I finally realized about our predicament was that nobody was going to live our lives for us. Being an adult takes courage and some intentionality, a commitment to hanging on when hanging on seems impossible.

But lest this degenerate into some kind of morally edifying self-help anecdote, it also occurs to me that it’s critical to point out that we were kept afloat. We had people who loved us, who wouldn’t let us fall through the cracks. It is a hard thing to realize that not everyone is so fortunate—and that we could very easily, if just a few things were different, be the people we read about living under viaducts in cardboard boxes. So while living can’t be done by proxy, it can’t be done in isolation either.

Faith, it seems to me, works along the same lines. On the one hand, the spiritual lone wolf is a non-starter; on the other hand, walking through a crowd of people on a journey you happen not to be taking doesn’t make you a pilgrim either. You can neither go it alone nor rely entirely on others to do your work for you. Somewhere in the mysterious middle lies maturity—both as a human being and as a seeker of God.

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