Reflections on maturity

I've been thinking about maturity and I have been having conversations about it. What is it? What distinguishes maturity from childishness? These are some thoughts that have come out of those conversations. If you have other thoughts, I'd love to hear them.

Many of the things that have come up relate to order. I think the first that came to my mind was a hierarchy of desires. A child immediately seeks to fulfill a desire. That desire may be overridden by a stronger desire, but that one also will be immediate. An adult has desires that last beyond an impulse, and they are aware of lesser and greater desires, and are able to submit the lesser desire to the greater desire, even though the lesser desire may be more immediate.

Even if they have not written out their desires in order, adults are at least aware of the hierarchy, and perhaps have noticed that it is out of order and have worked to re-organize it. This idea of desires being "out of order" brings up another theme of maturity: awareness of something beyond their own self and perspective.

Though a child knows that other people exist, they are not thinking about what life is like for other people, how other people experience the world through a different perspective, that there are many things that exist beyond their own small experience of the world.

Adults know that other people have their own selves, their own lense, their own story and experience. They are not just part of your own experience. They are not merely a minor character in the play of your life, but they are also the major character in their life, in which you are a minor character! Whatever you see, feel, think, believe, they too are doing those same things, and often in such a different way! 

An adult knows that not only are people independent from them, but so is reality as a whole. While you are away, the trees still grow. Without any need for you, the birds fly across a field. Before you knew anything about the sun, it was already burning and pulling the earth around itself. A child thinks of what it controls, but the mind of an adult grows in the knowledge of things it does not control.

An adult observes these things and makes decisions based on them. An adult adapts their life to reality, and realizes that reality will not adapt to them, or rather, that reality has patterns in the way that it adapts, patterns that are independent of our personal desires. 

You might say an adult looks at life as a river to be navigated, whereas a child stumbles through a dark room, trying in vain to bend reality to itself, celebrating when by chance (or more likely via their parents) something good happens, but mostly cursing life when it refuses to obey them. An adult does not expect it to obey. 

Close on the heels of the realization that other people have their own perspectives and stories that they live within is the realization that our own perspective and story was given to us. It was given to us by our parents, teachers, and friends, and is colored by our experience, not absolute reality.

There comes a time when you consider this perspective that has been given to you. Do you agree with it, or do you not? You move beyond parroting what you have been taught and start to analyze it, considering the facts and experiences for yourself. You may come up with different conclusions, or confirm the ones you were given, but now you own them in a way you did not before, and you are responsible for them.

Another aspect of maturity the desire to give. Not only does an adult realize that other stories besides theirs are going on all around them, they want to join in, and they want to make them better somehow. To a smaller degree, having the means to give is also a sign of maturity, because it means you have become autonomous enough to care for yourself, and out of your excess you can care for others as well. 

The genuine desire to give, however, is more important than the ability. One can be responsible and still not have much to give. Better to have little with a generous heart than to have much with a stingy one. This desire to give builds on the awareness of other people's stories, and adds to awareness love. 

Perhaps the pinnacle of maturity is love. To grow in the knowledge and practice of love, what could be greater? A fully mature person knows when to insist on the truth, when to accept with unconditional love, when to encourage and comfort, and when to exhort and rebuke. What an example of this Jesus is! 

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14