3. a : of or relating to a condition of full development
Last night, J and I were at a small group gathering with some neighborhood friends who attend our church. We chowed down on good pizza, drank some red wine and read part of Chapter 4 of Ephesians. Then we discussed what stood out to us in the verses. Several people shared thoughts and then we settled in to talk for a bit about what it means to be mature - a mature person, a mature person of faith. My immediate thoughts didn't go far beyond Paul's description of maturity as one who is not prone to being tossed about, blown here and there by life itself. We threw out a few more words that described mature: steadfast, resolute. And then the conversation took us elsewhere.
Today I've spent some more time thinking about what I think it means to be mature. I've used a few different frameworks to help me think about this: where do I see my daughters maturing? what people would I describe as mature? in what context do I use the word mature?
I found the last question easiest to answer. The circumstance that immediately sprang to mind was one where someone is hurt by someone else, but reacts well, reacts maturely. I've occasionally commended one of my daughters for not being quick to take offense by saying she reacted with maturity. Part of being mature is an emotional maturity, yes, but it's also a willingness to set aside one's own experiences, feelings. The mature response often requires unselfishness. This makes sense because selfishness is our natural bent as humans (ever seen a hungry, frustrated two year old? selfishness embodied). Only through learning, growing and living with others can we hope to shed this selfishness. Letting go of our own wants, needs, emotions does aid steadfastness because what is more likely to batter us about internally than our own emotions, thoughts,etc.? These hold far more sway than any external force, so by choosing to set them aside, you choose a step towards maturity.
There's also the obvious growth - physical, emotional and intellectual - that accompanies the maturation process. These three are not always in sync. There are many books that my daughters are capable of reading that are too emotionally advanced for them. But one key to maturing - to not just wandering aimlessly down a path, but walking down it with purpose - is to assess where you are in your growth so that you give yourself appropriate challenges. Without appropriate pacing and steady movement towards maturity, we either flame out too fast or languish as a sapling, never making it to the maturity of a full grown oak.
A certain degree of self-awareness is required to maintain growth, to even begin to move towards unselfishness. The people I would describe as mature are quite often comfortable in their own skin. Not in a belligerent "take it or leave it" fashion, but in a humble "this is who I am" kind of way. Being mature is as much about realizing who you aren't as about realizing who you are - and giving others the freedom to be completely different than you.
As I pondered the word mature today, it occurred to me how much our world discourages, discounts and devalues maturity. I recalled a time several years ago when A was about 6 or 7. She was fresh out of the bathtub and I was toweling her off when I thought, "I wish my body looked like that!" She was lean, slim, flat bellied. Of course she was - she was 6! What made me think I should want the body of a child, not a woman? Who told me this? Why did I believe them? Clearly no one person told me this - it's the story our daughters are told over and over. Be thin. Look young. Aim for sexiness in a prepubescent body. It's all so very wrong and it's one reason plastic surgery is so desirable in our culture. There's no value given to aging - no credence given to the wisdom acquired with age, the empathy learned from hard lessons learned, the hindsight gained through years lived. We aren't meant to stall in the teenage years. We're to grow, learn, mature.
One reason we need to think about what it looks like to be mature, live maturely and act with maturity is because our world gives us few examples. If maturity is about setting aside your selfishness to think about another's feelings, that is completely counter-cultural. If being mature means growing, that requires an admission of the aging process. If self-awareness is desirable, we must be willing to spend time alone with our own souls.
I think the important question isn't just how to live as mature believers, but how to live maturely in a world that screams at you: "Don't grow up! Do what you want! Don't think about other people!" The strength, courage and intentionality to mature in our world must be a sign of something greater at work in a person - because otherwise, it simply doesn't happen.