The old Washington political cliché has taken on new meaning and new life recently, generally referring to character and behavior rather than policy decisions. But the term has resonated with me in a totally nonpolitical way. I often find myself in situations where a tiny voice in my head reminds me, “Be the adult in the room.”
Somehow, that message is more effective in curbing my instinct to lash back, argue, retaliate or carry a grudge in arguments and other confrontational settings than those familiar, more literal self-warnings: “Hold your temper. Don’t lose your self-control. Bite your tongue.” It is even more effective than the lesson I learned from one of George Gaston’s sermons years ago: “It is more important to be rightly related than to be right.”
I was reminded of the term as it relates to Scripture and the Christian life when I stumbled upon a 2013 blog by Msgr. Charles Pope: On Being the Adult in the Room. He quotes from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, 4:11–15.
And [Christ] gave some as Apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ.
It’s the Church’s responsibility—through teaching and preaching, as well as by example—to equip Christians to grow to full adulthood, no longer children, “tossed by waves and swept along by every wind” caused by human trickery, cunning or deceit. Rather, we are to grow and mature in every way to be like Christ, living the truth in love. Wow!
“Be ye therefore perfect…”
Perhaps you, like me, grew up hearing the word “perfect” in the King James Version of the Bible. In that translation, Jesus is quoted in Matthew 5:48: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” For years I called that the Christian dilemma—that an impossible goal is set for us, and we are to keep on trying, even though we are bound to fail.
Vernon Elmore, my longtime pastor and a distinguished biblical scholar, removed some of the burden of perfectionism in a sermon on Jesus’ words. He explained that the Greek word for perfect means to be complete, to be mature—to be the adult in the room.
What Does a Mature Widow Look Like?
But what does a mature widow look like? For sure, it’s not displaying childish or adolescent behavior. I did a Google search of mature, and I like the dictionary definition: having reached a stage of mental or emotional development characteristic of an adult; having reached the most advanced stage. One definition compares maturity to fine, aged wine: when we reach our final, best stage of development.
In the depths of early grief, when my brain seemed to shut down and my emotions governed my behavior, sustained mature behavior wasn’t possible; but it was my goal. I wanted to control my emotions, to be proactive in planning my future, to be a positive role model for others. I wanted my children and grandchildren:
- To want to be around me (we all have an elderly relative somewhere whom we see only because duty compels us); and
- To remember me as they remember my mother-in-law, active and full of life right up to the end; not like Mama, who slipped into chronic depression and invalidism after Daddy died.
My Primer for Widowhood
Because I could not find a book that taught me how to pull myself out of my grief, I turned to the Apostle Paul’s letter to the discouraged, divided church at Philippi; and it became my primer for widowhood. There he describes his own goal of maturity:
Not that I have already obtained this [maturity] or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead I press on toward the goal… (Philippians 3:12–14a, NRSV)
Paul goes on to describe the attributes needed to reach maturity.
- Seek to get along with one another.
- Be gentle.
- Do not worry.
- Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (4:8)
It didn’t happen overnight, and more than nine years later I have still not fully achieved my goal. First, I had to make peace with myself, to accept my circumstances and let go of the past. As I write in Reclaiming Joy:
Once I made peace with myself, I needed to seek peace with those I loved most. That began with me. I needed to be a person who was true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, and trustworthy. I needed to dwell on these things, speak about these things, read books about these things, and watch movies and tv about these things. And I needed to associate with others who did the same.
To be positive and to surround myself with positive people and to fill my mind with positive thoughts, to be mature, to be the adult in the room—it makes all the difference.
* * *
I have blogged before about these verses from Philippians, in a series called 12 Keys to Reclaiming Joy.
- Key 7: Let go of the past; embrace the future.
- Key 9: Think of things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good reputation, excellent and praiseworthy.
Reclaiming Joy has gone to the printer!
Parts of this week’s blog were adapted from my forthcoming memoir, Reclaiming Joy, to be released September 15 by 1845 Books, an imprint of the Baylor University Press. You can preorder here.