Coming of age is a strange notion. What is this age, and how are you to know when you’ve arrived?
The other day I was hiking and came across a great tree. Two large trunks branched from the same base. The cleft was just too high to get my foot up. I failed the first couple attempts and then succeeded at hoisting myself up. Bracing my back against the trunk, I stood still and watched the lake. I heard voices nearby. At this age, should I be embarrassed to be seen in a tree?
Later, I came to an inlet where the lake water is shallow and calm and choked by trees. Seven turtles perched on logs. I was so excited. I can’t tell you how many turtles I’ve seen in my life. Turtles aren’t the most fantastic creatures. Still, I walked very quietly to see the turtles without scaring them into the water. I also saw a muskrat skimming the surface with a mouthful of brush. He dove, and water bubbled off the sheen of his fur. He swam into a tunnel in the bank beneath a tree’s roots. The animals absolutely delighted me. I hope I never lose this childlike awe for nature.
Then I startled a deer. We stood and stared at each other. She moved off and I kept going. A little farther along, our paths crossed again. Now there were four deer. At least one of them was young: a button buck. They were eating all the new buds and tender leaves off the trees. When they moved forward, I walked with them. When they stood still, I froze and watched. The young buck was really interested in me and not at all scared. He looked at me, then went back to eating. He lifted his hind leg to scratch his face with a hoof. He checked me out some more and licked himself indifferently. Eventually the two adults in charge became agitated by my presence. Deer don’t have much of a reputation for viciousness, but I got worried. One squared up to face me head on. She stomped her foot. She bobbed her head at me over and over. Meanwhile, the other deer slowly moved off to my right. It never took its eyes off me. It moved with cautious precision, bobbing its head at me like the first deer. This one was flanking me.
Are you kidding? I thought. I’m about to get mauled by deer. How embarrassing. The young button buck watched all this with detached interest and kept eating. I pondered the best way to defend oneself against deer. I’ve seen videos online of a guy getting stomped by a deer and I’m confident he suffered some bad injuries. I was close to a tree; I figured I could duck and cover like they train little kids to do in tornado and earthquake drills. Always protect the head and neck. For the time being, I practiced being motionless. Apologies can’t hurt, so I said “I’m sorry,” to the flanking deer. My penitent stillness was effective. The deer either lost interest or chose retreat over attack. Always a fast learner, I continued following them until they ran off to private property. The button buck was the last the leave. He seemed almost reluctant to give up this novelty. He stood in the path where his companions had fled and he looked back at me for a long while. Then he turned and lopped after them. Maybe that was the coming of age for the young buck. He left the brash inquisitiveness of youth and learned to be a hunted animal who runs at the sight or smell of danger.
Sometimes I feel like a hunted animal. I might not know what the danger is. I don’t think the deer could decide if I was a threat or not. Without knowing why, I run. I see everything I can be in life and conversely, all the ways I might fail. And I run into the quagmire of indecisiveness. Inaction seems safe, but it is a trap that is hard to escape. The longer one stays, the more heart and mind are lost. Perhaps my coming-of-age is a time when I will stop running. Or maybe it’s simply the knowledge that I’m running, and the first step toward peace.
I once blogged that I didn’t know what I wanted in life. A pastor friend quickly reminded me that we are not here to be served but to serve. Seeking what I think I want in life is quite unlikely to fulfill me. There will always be the next thing. I can spend all my days imagining how great it will be when… But if I do that, I will never live. When the future comes, it will be the present and there will be a new future to hope for. God has given me this day; I am not guaranteed another.
My prayer devotional yesterday was themed on taking action. It included this quote: “We spend our lives dreaming of the future, not realizing that a little of it slips away every day.” -Barbara Johnson.
I often quote my favorite Bible verse, Jeremiah 29:11
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
But I realize that I focus too much on the future aspect of the verse. The Bible makes it clear that in fact the plans God has for me are taking place right now. The hope is in my hands. What am I doing with it?
When I look back on my life at age 23, what will I remember? I climbed trees and I stalked wild animals through the woods and I stopped running like a scared deer and took hold of God’s plan in which I am living. Coming of age is not a day. It’s not a year. It’s a lifelong process of maturing, learning and embracing the life God has laid out.