Coming to Maturity In the Modern World

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It is so difficult today to evaluate what we consider a mature child.  Yet it has only been in the last 75 years or so that this has even been a question. Prior to that, you were considered a child until you were about 13 – then you were considered a young adult.

A certain level of maturity was assumed, and regularly demonstrated, by this time. The notion of adolescence was nothing more than a term used only in the academic or research worlds – it was not part of our “common” understanding of the development of the child. Yet today it is used to describe a time period of maturing or developing and has truly aided in delaying the process. We as parents – and the greater culture – have gotten in the way of our children becoming mature by expecting and requiring less of them today than ever before.

The beginning of the Book of James challenges us that struggle is good and the engine to becoming mature but this is not very comforting. And yet, it holds a simple key to understanding maturity and the process which leads to it. Earlier, in Genesis 3 we see a critical effect of sin in man – distorted emotions. Adam confesses that he is ashamed of being naked where previously he was not.  God points out to him by way of a question that he has begun believing another worldview by asking “Who told you that?”

By following any worldview other than that of God, we are left with distorted emotions and warped truth. What was created and deemed good is now bad and a stimulus for negative emotions. For true maturity to occur we must take charge of our distorted emotions and claim the correct worldview – the only one with which to navigate the broken world.

Maturity has three key elements. First, one must have an understanding of what is right, wise, healthy, good judgment, etc. in life. This of course assumes that there is one universal transcendent authority – God. In today’s world of Individualism and no transcendent truth, true maturity is stalled from the get-go. How can everyone start from a different point “morally” and end up at the same place? It is impossible!

In the current worldview of “Individualism”, there is no wrong behavior and there are only hollow men. The argument is simple; for something to be wrong there must be a standard to draw from for that determination to be made. If something is said to be bitter, I must also have an understanding of sweet. For something to be long, I must have an awareness of something short.

But when we come to the nuances of the current “values neutral” crowd of the Individualists, we must pursue ideas like tolerance and sensitivity. These are both code words for “thou shall not offend” anyone. This is the world in which we currently raise and educate our children. It is the world of personal morality and “how dare you if you disagree.” Without a clear transcendent moral authority, how can anything be said to be wrong or right? To argue the position of personal morality or post-modernism, one is either grossly un-intelligent, impaired or a charlatan. No wonder we have been lost.

This requires parents to state what is right.  We are the ultimate authority for our child early in life and we need to make the most of their attention and help them think correctly. What we require, impress, hold accountable are the things they will begin to internalize as “right.”

Second, we must be able to recognize when our emotional experience (what we feel and want) is in conflict with what is right, wise, etc.  Once we have identified the first the second is quite easy for most of us.

I have yet to meet a kid who doesn’t know whether or not he wants to follow his parent’s request of taking out the trash when it is raining and he is playing video games in his pajamas. This stage does not automatically assume that all anger is unhealthy and that depression and anxiety immediately need to be treated as a mental health issue. All emotions are results of something and none are bad yet they may be experienced as either positive or negative. Our job is to not have them overtake us and direct what we do – learning to manage them is a significant part of the process of maturity.

Third, when we realize that what we feel and want is in conflict with what is right, we choose what is right. Yes, in the face of the “me” generation we must choose to act in conflict with what we want and feel. In other words, the goal is not to get rid of the anger, frustration, etc.  We are to learn to operate “rightly” while experiencing all of those states of emotion. This is maturity.

The process of developing this maturity is what is discussed in James.  Testing our faith is really saying: “Do we believe that what we have been told is truly right?  Perseverance is the process of holding those uncomfortable, negative emotions at bay while we pursue what is right. Our emotional experiences then become fueled by how we are now living in accordance with the will of God rather than just reactions to whether or not we are “happy.”

When the world of our children’s wants and feelings collide with what is honoring to God, this is the moment for true discipleship. For our children to begin this process, we must often be the initial agents of frustration and struggle. We are to help these worlds collide for this discipleship opportunity to begin.

– Keith McCurdy