Much digital ink has been deployed discussing both Twenty One Pilots’s top song “Stressed Out” and the millennial zeitgeist it embodies. It is popular not only for its beat and sound, but particularly for its lyrics that seem to resonate intuitively across an entire generation of millennials.
Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out.
As a thirty-year-old mother of two with a mortgage, a job, and all the accoutrements of adulthood, I hum along and can almost feel the warm wood of the dock and taste the snow cone that embody being seventeen, and I can feel the relief and nostalgia wash over me like my friends’ laughter and the warm sun of summer. And I hit repeat.
For many of my generation the fixation on childhood is not mere nostalgia: they’re not just lamenting growing up; they’re refusing to. This extension of adolescence has garnered a lot of flak, and to be honest, much of the critique is spot on. The rise of things like adult proms, adult preschools, and adult summer camps suggest an immature resisting of adulthood. And that needs to be put to death.
But not all of it.
A person’s a person no matter how small
In the Western world, we tend to think about growth linearly, so children have little to offer and much to learn. Our linear minds also like to put things in neat boxes. Childish is bad. Adultish is good. As Christians, we add yet another layer: adultish is spiritually mature.
But God doesn’t look at it that way. He dignifies children with every bit of the image of God as adults, upholds their faith as worthy of heaven and bestows upon Christians the highest honorific he can give—his children. We have this idea that children are given to adults in order to learn from them, but we never seem to consider the possibility that we have it all wrong, and that perhaps it is the adults who are to learn from the children.
G. K. Chesterton beautifully expounds on this idea.
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
Land of Enchantment
When a storm rolls in, my daughter climbs up on the couch to look out the window and wait for thunder. Every time she hears the low rumbling, she claps her hands and shouts, “Yay!” Children have a capacity to delight and exult in every detail of creation that I no longer possess, but it infuses a wonder and enchantment to this mundane world that gives us a glimpse of how it was meant to be.
The world of children is enchanted not only because of their infectious delight, but also because they are not bound by the reality that they see. Watching my daughter dance around our house, I realize a fundamental difference between the two of us: her imagination knows no limits. To her, this house is not merely a house. It’s a castle, a tower, a jungle, a forest, a car. That “cup”? It has strawberry coffee in it. And it’s delicious.
Much of what we consider to be childish behavior is continuing to depend on a parent when society says we ought not to. I will always be the child of my parents, but I will not always be a child. At some point along the way being their daughter ceased being my primary identifier, and I became my own person. As a flesh and blood child, maturity is growing in independence from my parents.
My relationship with God, though, is different. Christians are always, eternally, forever, children of God. Here in this time-bound earth, we tend to think of childhood as a state that fades away, giving place to maturity, but our relationship to God does not unfold in the same way. I never lose my primary identifier as his child. Jesus modeled for us that Christian maturity means growing evermore into my identity as his child, which actually means a greater dependence on my Father, not less.
Perhaps the answer to being stressed out is neither to grow up nor refuse to. The bills aren’t going away. The responsibilities, the decisions, the weight. I will only go to more funerals, cry more tears, bear more burdens. But this wistfulness I feel is an opportunity to remember forward.
I long for the good old days because the world is not meant to be this way. I long for the good old days because eternity has been written on my heart. I long for the good old days because a better day is coming. And in the midst of this longing, instead of trying to escape by returning to childhood, I can let my children teach me to delight in the small things, to transcend the visible world, to trust deeply in my Father, and to put my hope not in the past but the future.
Is there a more profound picture of the relationship with God that is offered to us, or a greater picture of the shalom our hearts long for than a child, held in the peace and protection of his mother’s embrace as she sings a song over him, lovingly ushering him to sleep? If that is childish, then call me a millennial, but I do not want to be an adult.
 G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1908), 39.
Cover image by Annie Spratt.