Recently, I overheard a conversation between one person I knew well and another person I saw on occasion. For the sake of conversation we will call them Sally and Rob. The piece of conversation I over heard was Rob telling Sally how she had matured since their last meeting. This surprised me. I have always known Sally to be very mature, accepting responsibility, while going out of her way to help others. Sally has a depth of empathy that reaches well beyond what I would consider average and this sense of empathy propels her to act in ways that seem uncanny for her age.
This conversation stuck with me. I guess I wanted to understand why Rob thought of Sally in this way. What did he see that maybe I didn’t? After several days of pondering, I had this awareness moment. Sally was guilty of being joyful. Sounds odd I know. But the expression that Rob so clearly understood as immaturity, I very clearly saw as the ability to be joyful. This got me thinking and wondering. How do we measure joy in our world and how do we measure maturity? And can the concept of maturity and our definition of it, impose upon our ability to be joyful?
I have meet many people in my life for whom maturity has a specific look. It is reserved and quiet, and fun and joy is something reserved for the youth. But does the act of fun and joy mean a person is not mature? That is what it felt like for Sally, an admonishment that her presences as a joyful person should be toned down, to fit an undescribed, unwritten standard.
Maybe the problem is that over the centuries maturity and piety have been to intertwined, for this same confusion and superimposed idea of what piety “should” look like, falls hard on the younger people. Piety, at it’s essence, is how an individual honors their relationship with God, in a way that nurtures the faithful connection between them and their creator. For many centuries and in many religious setting piety was a list of don’ts. Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t play cards. I have meet some who are not allowed to go to the movies, or they must wear long dresses and long hair… If these are the ways in which they can best live into a faithful relationship with their creator, yes, more power to them.
But for some of us, piety looks a lot more like a joyous song of what God’s gives us permission to do. Like sing, and smile, dance, and have fellowship with friends at a bar with a beer talking about who God is.
For each of us piety will look different, as it is as unique as the fingerprints we bare because each of our relationships with God have a unique and beautiful story to be lived into.
I wonder then if this is also true of maturity. Yes, there are some common threads that signal maturity, like the ability to listen while others speak, honor commitments, live with integrity, help others.. that kind of stuff, which is good, but joy and the abundance there of maybe we are not doing as well with this concept and need to consider how joy is an emotion that is necessary to our being.
As I ponder all of these things, I reminded that even King David danced for joy with all his might, before God, and any who were watching. He celebrated the return of the ark of the covenant, wearing only an linen ephod.
The daughter of Saul, Michal, was not so pleased. (2 Samuel 6:20-23)
20 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”
21 David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me rulerover the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. 22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”
23 And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.
Maybe we need to be less like Michal seeing joy as a dishonor? Maybe we would do well being more like Sally and even David, living with a joyous heart, instead of being worried about others and how joy looks immature to them?
Especially when we know that,
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.
(Gal 5:22-23 NRS)
Or maybe we need to consider the idea that joyfulness is a sign of maturity and honor it as such, instead of letting shame dictate us into compliance of a placid smile.
Smile hard my friends, sing beautiful songs together, let the expression of your joy make you complete. Amen.