When I was little, I would go outside and play. I did the same as any other normal kid would do: I made up wondrous lands, filled them with wondrous people, and then had wondrous adventures. That’s a lot of wonder, but it was never enough for me. I had joy in what was around me, I loved the little things, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
When I was little, I would go outside and play, but I often wondered also about getting older. I wondered if I would ever not love to play the silly games that I spent my time on. I then thought – and thought more – about the implications of getting older. I compared myself to the adults around me, and I felt a little disheartened. I wanted to get older. That was my biggest aspiration as a kid, believe it or not. I wanted to get older so that I could take things seriously and not have the adults laugh at me for doing so. I could be that responsible, determined person I always thought I was without people doubting me. I loved to go outside and play, but I also wanted to do greater things.
I think that’s why writing was so attractive to me. It held just the right amount of ambition and imagination that I simply couldn’t resist. I wanted to get older. Once I was older, I would write more fluently (unless by some freak accident I lost my mind or my arms). I knew I would become a stronger Christian. I knew I would become a man. I looked forward to all of these things, and sought them out, sometimes rather impatiently.
Once I reached college, I just assumed that it was time. College was where everyone went to grow up, right? It was finally time! However, the passions of the world are more abundant at college than maturity. Upon reaching college I was met with the reality of an over abundance of peers. People don’t tell you this (and this isn’t just the homeschooler speaking), but the power of your fellow Freshman is stronger than you might think. People I respected did things I couldn’t agree with. That makes one retreat.
I lost a lot of ground in my Freshman year. I ran back to the imagination and innocence that I wanted to leave. I stayed there, simply ignoring anything that was too offensive, unfunny, or blasphemous to get my attention. This is very hard to do if you live in a guy’s Freshman dorm.
I didn’t act like a child. I didn’t want to. I grew in faith, and I grew in knowledge that year. “Confidence, Nate,” a good friend once told me. That was my biggest take away from my first year at college. “You’ve got to have confidence.”
Sophomore year I tried to apply that. It worked decently well. Getting older seemed to happen. I turned twenty at the end of Sophomore year, which was a surreal experience to say the least. I believe that I was able to strike a healthy balance between working towards maturity, but still enjoying the little things in life. You can work towards that job, and also smell the roses on your way. Sophomore year was that, and so was the start to Junior year. That is, until something unexpected happened.
I swung the other way. I never thought I would. I never wanted to. But suddenly, for the first time in my life, the roses just didn’t matter anymore. I kept thing about things such as grad school, future jobs, potential car problems, finances, and long term relationships. These are all wonderful and essential things to think about, but they began to consume me. I was also physically sick at the time, so my mind was in a constant haze. I began to question why staying loyal to the things I’ve held so dearly was actually important. I began to question why I was trying so hard.
My writing professor once said, “You can only be told “no” so many times before you become a cynic.”
I think I nearly got there. I wasn’t happy. But I also wasn’t happy being unhappy. As I went throughout this, I kept getting this urge. An urge to write. But I didn’t want to. I wrote for school, and I didn’t have the time or energy to do anything other than that. The voice kept coming back, though. “Nate, it’s time you start writing again! Outside of school work! Rekindle your imagination!”
I kept making excuses. I put it off. I told myself that I was too busy and stressed to write (but honestly that’s the best time to do so). I didn’t write, but my creative side would have no more of this foolery. I finally sat down and did the next best thing. I began to draw. I sat and began to sketch the walls of a castle. Not just any castle, but the walls to the great silver castle of Alcamar. It was the castle from my oldest and most imagined story. I thought of the Silver elves, and of the young and fair Melleny (the main protagonist). I had remembered how long it had been since I gave that story any thought. I had put off writing it so that my talents could improve at college, but I had missed it all this time.
I sketched the castle and the surrounding area, mapping out in my head the locations that I had visited time and time again in the different versions of the story that I have had in past years. I went back to the small Orc house and talked with Giant’s family. I wandered through Merns, the dastardly slaver’s town. I crept through the forgotten paths, which twisted and turned through distorted forest. I stared in awe while exploring the mighty silver castle itself. I couldn’t get enough of it, and a balance was struck once again.
I loved imagination. I have also been blessed with a love for the little things. I pay attention to the wind, and the blue jays that fly overhead, and the flowers that grow beside the sidewalk, and the colors of the leaves that are now changing, and the people who care about me and smile as I walk by. I almost forgot those things.
I’m ready to grow up. I want it badly, but I’ve got a long way to go. However, growing up does not mean ending your imagination. Being consumed by your responsibilities is how you lose at growing up. If all you care about is money, possessions, and respect, you did it wrong. As I go further through my twentieth year, I’ve found that I’ve had to be more intentional about not being swallowed whole. Such things are always hungry, and you can’t always trust your own strength.
When you’re losing that battle, don’t neglect to draw a map back to yourself. Map out what is truly important to you, and you can always find your way back. All that remains is writing it all down.
PSALM 25:4-5 (ESV)
Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.