A few years ago, I was driving in the car with my then four year-old son, Scotty. Looking out the window he saw another driver smoking a cigarette. He exclaimed, “That man has one of those things that turn your lungs black!” Though I wanted him to be gentle with the man he was looking at, he spoke truth. We talked about how harmful they can be, especially since he has Cystic Fibrosis. He said, “As long as I’m a kid I will never smoke any of those things!” To which I replied, “That’s good, but what about when you’re an adult?” His response was too self-aware, “Well, what if I forget when I’m an adult?”
“Peter Pan Syndrome” is a non-medical condition attributed to never growing up. Someone who is immature and wants to be a kid all the time may be described as having “Peter Pan Syndrome.”
We see this played out from time to time in different ways in someone who does not want to take responsibility for their actions or create a life of their own, outside their parent’s house. However, we know that it’s important to grow up, to be responsible for your actions, to get a job and take care of yourself and, potentially, your family.
In 1st Corinthians chapter 13 we read about love. The famous chapter goes on longer than we usually read. Before saying that greater than faith and hope is love, it says in verse 11, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” It calls us to a maturity of love. St. Paul calls us to a growth that turns our childish behaviors into all the things listed about love. Those behaviors are kindness, not enviousness, not rudeness, or arrogance, rejoices in truth, etc. The opposite of those things is really immaturity.
When someone is envious, rude, or arrogant, I want to tell him or her to grow up. Or better yet, when I am those things, I have to look myself in the mirror and tell myself to grow up. Yet after reading those characteristics of maturity we continue with St. Pauls call for us to love in a way that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (v. 6) These traits, especially hoping and believing are often attributed to the hearts of children, but it is seen as a rarity in the heart of the mature adult.
When St. Paul tells us to put away our childish things, he is not saying become cold hearted. Jesus Christ, Himself, tells us, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3). That’s an important prerequisite.
We must see that the faith of children, the humility of children, and the resilience, belief, and hope of children is actually rather mature.
So for the sake of this article and the Peter Pan comparison, we must not develop what I will call “Banning Syndrome.” That is, we must not become like Peter Banning in the movie, “Hook.” Peter Banning is Peter Pan, all grown up. As an adult, Banning forgets who he is deep down and becomes cold-hearted.
There's a difference between child-ish and child-like. How do we prevent swinging from one side of the pendulum as a grown up “Peter Pan” to the other side, becoming a “Banning?” We must detach from the business of the world, the phones, the cars, the lattes, and grow in our youth.
One place we can do this is camp. It is one major reason why going to camp as a young adult is so important. Each year I make it a priority to go to camp, even at age 36. The fact of the matter is, it helps connect me with Christ. What is more important than that? I don’t go because I simply want to pretend I’m a kid for a week, no, camp at 36 is hard work. However, this youthfulness and time in God’s creation is proven to be something that works toward my salvation. You can tell that even the staff that realizes this makes the best staff. The staff that allow themselves to be childlike without becoming childish make the biggest impact on the actual children there. In the end both are impacted profoundly.
At four years old, my son understood the potential pitfalls of “growing up.” We forget. We forget about things that are good for us. We lump growing up into doing whatever we want. The truth is, smoking is not good for us and yet a lot of us choose to do it. There are a lot of things that are not good for us that we choose to do. What if we took sometime to do what IS good for us? Something we long for, something we KNOW to be good, something like going to camp. Not everyone can do that, but when we're wondering what we should do, my advice is, do something good. Anything good. Ride a bike, go for a walk, help someone in need, pray, go to Church. Fill yourself with GOOD THINGS!
Having just returned with my now 9 year old son from camp, it is my opinion that camp is the most efficient ministry we have as a Church. This healthy return to innocence in God’s creation rekindles our desire to be with God. Having the opportunity to grow together and even assist in the growth of others, old and young, is what camp allows us to do. Camp permits us to clear the fog and distractions that hide the Truth of Life from our mind’s eye.
Attending Church regularly has a similar outcome. We may not see the transformation happen because it's something that happens gradually, much like going to a gym to work out; our muscles grow over time. Going to divine services help us connect with our true selves which is found in Christ. It not only helps prevent the world from sinking its teeth into us, it strengthens us to help those in the world who are struggling with the same issues.
Honestly, if you’re struggling with “Banning Syndrome,” go to Church. Not just once, often. It what we need to help find the real us and cultivate the soft heart that we often have forgotten exists under the mess the world has piled on top of your true identity in Christ. There you can have your very own moment where you rediscover that part of you and say, “There you are, [insert your name]!”