Yesterday I went to Louisville, KY with my 12-year-old daughter Lydia and some of her same-age peers from church, to an event designed to kick off this year’s Confirmation Classes for the United Methodist Churches in our region. It was a very nice day, during which we got to meet and hear from several of the people who work in the main office for our region, including our Bishop. For United Methodists, Confirmation is the event in the life of a youth that generally culminates in a public profession of faith and membership in the church. Most denominations have this sort of thing; in fact, most cultures around the world have something like it – a rite of passage for the younger generation to mark the beginning of their acceptance into the adult community.
I know I should probably feel old – that’s what a lot of people would say when their child reaches a milestone – but experiences like yesterday’s are more likely to leave me feeling thoughtful, energized and inspired. I’m odd like that, I guess. I’m excited for Lydia and I can’t wait to hear about all she’s learning in the Confirmation Classes. I can’t wait to search the Scriptures and related texts with her for answers to her questions. I can’t wait to hear what she’s thinking about the things she’s learning. I wonder what will stand out to her; what will be life-changing to her; what “a-ha” moments there might be for her during this process. I am proud that she chose, on her own, to participate in this rite of passage in her faith journey. It didn’t even really dampen my enthusiasm when she reminded me a couple of days ago that, in 3.5 years, she’ll be learning to drive. I did whimper a little at that, but not because it made me feel old. It just made me feel nervous.
When my siblings and I turned 13, Mom and Dad took us, individually, to a fancy restaurant for dinner and talked with us about grown-up stuff like what we might feel called to do in life, how we were going to serve our church and our fellowman, what characteristics one should foster and what characteristics one should discard. My parents went to receptions and banquets for various reasons, but they weren’t the kind of occasions to which their six children would have been invited. That 13th birthday experience of two forks, crystal stemware, and linen napkins was a first for each of us kids, and a memorable experience. I got to eat my rite-of-passage dinner at Boone Tavern, right here in Berea, and whenever I eat there, I’m reminded of that day, now over 30 years past.
Alfredo and I have lived a charmed life in many ways, and our kids have grown up on the road, sharing joyous times with people all over the world. They don’t remember the first time they ate at a two-fork restaurant or used a cloth napkin. We had to decide on another way to celebrate our daughters’ 13th birthday milestone, but we wanted it to be just as special to them as my experience was to me. In Denmark a young person is expected to have a big party (and I mean, a BIG party) when they’re confirmed around age 14. Many Jewish people celebrate bar mitzvah or bat mitzvahs for their kids. Mexican families celebrate “quinceañera” for their daughters. Here in the USA we have to create our own traditions if we want our kids to experience a significant and healthy entry into adulthood. Alfredo and I decided we would take our children, one at a time, to a Broadway show in New York City for their 13th birthday. Lydia has been researching, and she wants to see The Lion King. An appropriate choice on many different levels!
Some things are worth waiting for. Those who garden or farm know that planting too soon is a good way to waste a lot of seed, and harvesting too soon is a good way to have nothing to eat. Things on a farm happen “in the fullness of time,” and you can’t rush them. Nature understands the importance of waiting, and we would do well to remember it ourselves. I think preschoolers are as cute as they can be, but I wonder about the wisdom of dressing them up in caps and gowns at the end of their school year… and asking their parents to pay for it. I was pretty darn excited about putting on my cap and gown for the first time for my high school graduation – celebrating something that I had earned even though it had been difficult at times. I knew what it meant to wear those things then, and again for graduation from college, because it symbolized something I had waited for, worked for. Confirmation in the church is a time of searching, and even struggling, for a deeper faith. When Lydia makes her profession of faith it will be because she has searched and found a deeper relationship with God that will sustain her in the years to come, and that’s worth celebrating. Without the search and struggle, the celebration would be empty. When we go see The Lion King with Lydia, she’ll know that it’s because she has reached an unforgettable milestone, after which she will be just a little different – something for her to remember and for us to remember as well. She’ll always be our girl, but this is an important opportunity for the three of us to recognize and affirm the woman she is becoming.
Looks like this will be a big year.