Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Facebook users have run across a quiz purporting to measure one’s mental age against one’s actual physical age. I can’t see the point of it but, so what, I took it anyway. Twice, actually—I was dissatisfied with the first result. Mental age is subjective and my subjectivity suggested something different than Facebook’s.

But it is an interesting disjunction, perplexing too in its way: We are never as old in our mind as we feel. That is, until we try to move a few body joints that are nearing their warranty expiration.

Our two daughters, yet at home, when still young teenagers, concluded that their father (that would be me) was the boy who never grew up. This, I was convinced when I heard it, was a rather charming way of describing my zest for life, capacity for spontaneous adventure, and my intellectual depth, plus my endearingly sly, winsome, and altogether joyfully sardonic sense of humor. Sure, that’s what it was.

No, I later learned, it wasn’t any of that. They had just heard from their mother that, as teenagers, they were still required to listen to her and follow her judgment no matter how much it chafed. Um, yes, you noticed, I didn’t seem to be in the equation anywhere.

Neither one liked this, but their mother—then an older, second-career education major who knew these things (I have learned, by the way, to emphasize “second-career” over “older”)—was now in a position to explain to them the dangers of making important decisions without her advice, since their brains still lacked frontal lobes.

She explained to them that the frontal lobes of their brains, the judgment center where prudent decision-making is lodged, were still maturing and developing. It wouldn’t do for either of them to make decisions of any sort with an underdeveloped frontal lobe. This, she assured them, was a simple affliction and most people in time outgrow it. But until she determined that they had developed sufficient capacity on their own, they should follow her guidance in everything and never make their own decisions.

The girls looked at each other and, in one of those moments of singularly brilliant comprehension, both exclaimed, “Dad!”

They adapted different ways of addressing this. My youngest chose patronization: “You should listen to your daughter,” she will say at any point of disagreement between us. The oldest had only to refine an already-developing huff of withering proportions.

So, I know you’ve been waiting. My first score on the Facebook quiz was age sixteen. At sixteen, I was driving a VW Beetle. I never wrecked it, never got a ticket, and never carried a lot of friends so as to avoid distraction. My second Facebook result was hardly better: age seventeen. At seventeen, I carried a brief case to high school (all the debate kids did) and my after-school job was a newspaper reporter for a county weekly. I was paid ten cents a column inch by an editor who thought he was clearing underbrush when reading my copy; they all think that way.

Now, I ask, does that sound like my frontal lobe was underdeveloped? I shared this mental age news just this morning with my oldest daughter. The huff was replaced with indecorous laughter. I haven’t told the younger one yet.

Maybe the best news, though, about mental age and actual aging is what Satchel Page reportedly asked: “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?”

Me, I want to be old enough to know the pleasures of family, and young enough to offer some back. I want to thrill to good music at any age, frame a decent prayer, and now and again write an outstanding sermon among all the ordinary ones I produce. Mostly, though, I want a developed frontal lobe so I will know when Isaiah spoke for God, he was speaking to me:

I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

Russell E. Saltzman is a dean in the North American Lutheran Church and assistant pastor of St. Matthew’s Church in Riverside, Missouri. His latest book, Speaking of the Dead, was published last July by ALPB Books. His previous articles can be found here.

Become a fan of First Things on Facebook, subscribe to First Things via RSS, and follow First Things on Twitter.

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter Web Exclusive Articles

Related Articles