I have heard it said that we are a consumer society. The amount of consumer debt in this country is staggering, it is true. It makes us look like we are all pursuing happiness in things – external things. This is reflected in the thinking that appearance matters more than reality, or as some people say and believe, appearance is reality… It is reflected in the feeling that we all want to have enough so we won’t have to worry about tomorrow – what we shall eat, what we shall wear or where we shall sleep. Yet, we all know this is not a good way to live. The rich person who has everything and is unhappy is a cliché. Still, we consume way beyond our means, and like addicts, so many of us cannot seem to help it and even secretly believe if only we had this or that we would be happy.
Me? I am not concerned about that self-contradictory external thinking. Instead, I see an undercurrent that concerns me much more.
Beneath all of the externals, I feel we are turning into people who want to be frozen in time. It is like Peter Pan thinking that has taken over the culture. We have deified youth. We all want to stay young forever. Age is seen not as a repository of wisdom and love, but as a flaw, a failing to be ignored and avoided at all costs.
But common sense will tell you that life is a course, a journey, not a frozen moment of time. How we walk our journey is what matters, not how we look.
Worse is the internal dynamic of this “Peter Panism.” It is found in the attitude that so many people hold: that I am perfect just as I am. It is the culture of self-esteem run amok. It is kids on American Idol who cannot sing a note and are surprised the judges don’t love them because everyone else in their life tells them they sing wonderfully well.
Among the Peter Pans, there are those who are fooled into believing these inflated egos are really just an attractive form of self-confidence. Soon enough the boss learns these people are not at all good on the job, they just think they are. Soon enough, women fooled by this false self-confidence recognize the truth, that it is no more than self-centeredness. Then husbands get referred to as “Mister Wonderful” in voices filled with sarcasm and a roll of the eyes.
Peter Pans, men and women, never see themselves as wrong, ever. They never say they are sorry, never admit a mistake, and when something doesn’t go their way it is always someone else’s fault. They never admit to having problems or troubles or being unhappy in any way. Happiness may well be found on the inside, but it will never even be glimpsed by those caught up in this kind of “I am perfect just as I am,” Peter Pan thinking.
The truth is life is a journey and we are all forever changing and hopefully growing and learning along the way.
The truth is tomorrow will never be a repeat of some glory day. Tomorrow will be different, and we will be different, and not just physically aged, but different on the inside. We are never the same person twice and all efforts to freeze ourselves, our lives, personality, ego and all we feel in the perfect state will ultimately fail.
The truth is the elderly deserve our admiration and affection, not our disdain. The young need guidance, not simply a free range and the word that they are already wonderful and perfect in every way. And grown-ups in this culture need to be more honest with themselves. None of us is perfect just as we are. There is always a next step.
The truth is life must be lived in tension. It is good to be comfortable in one’s skin and content with who we are today. But at the same time we must always remember that the journey isn’t over. There is always more to learn and grow and we can always be better people – closer to the best self we can be, perhaps the self we were meant to be. We can always take a step closer to God as long as we don’t try to freeze ourselves in time.
Tonight, instead of praying for tomorrow to be a better day, try praying that tomorrow I might be a better person.
You probably know some Peter Pans, unless you have been completely taken in by the thinking. You might know a lot of Peter Pans. Allow me to encourage you. We should pray for them, even as we look in the mirror.