“When I was a boy of fourteen,” Mark Twain once said reflecting on his adolescence, “my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
Of course, the comedy in this story lies in Mark Twain’s cleverness at self-deprecation, which was not at all aimed at his father’s ignorance but his own – or perhaps more politely his own immaturity. I should sympathize with Mark Twain, for as a teenager I must have been guilty from time to time of sharing the same sentiments about my own father before experiencing at a more mature age an epiphany about his wisdom. But even then my ignorance – or immaturity I should say – carried on in other ways. For instance, when I was in my twenties and thirties people in their sixties and seventies were old. You ever notice that? But by the time I began to approach that age myself I was astonished how in a mere thirty or forty years that age group had become much younger. I’ll bet you notice the same phenomenon as you mature.
Maturity is always life’s best teacher, and in fact the only source for gaining true wisdom. The problem is there are no shortcuts for accumulating it, only time and experience. Too often we lament the mistakes and missteps of our youth. “Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways . . .” King David once begged of God in a prayer recorded in Psalm 25. Yet while David’s sins and rebellious ways as well as our own mistakes and transgressions may remain regretful to us, they are nonetheless stepping stones along our pathway toward maturity.
So we continue to travel down that pathway toward maturity, yet we never quite arrive, do we? But we do often travel far enough where we must suffer the indignities of ignorance and old age . . . . until, like Mark Twain’s father and the sixty, seventy year-olds and beyond of today, we too are eventually redeemed as younger and wiser.