Frankford and 82nd.  Sitting at the light.  Laura Kate (age almost-3) and I have been on an adventure.  And she is about to ask me a very important question.  But first, a slight rewind…

“Laura Kate, first we’ll go to the grocery store.  Then we’ll go by Grammy’s office and pick up some prizes she has for you.”

“That’s an awesome plan,” she says.

In between, she learns six (count ‘em) verses of an Easter song her uncle Joel and I wrote when he wasn’t much older than she is now.  Which brings us to the traffic light near our house on the way home.

“Papa,” says the voice in the back seat.  “Are you growed up?”

“What did you say?” I reply.  “Am I growed up?”

“Yes,” she says, very seriously.

“Yeah,” I mutter.  “I’m growed up.”

“Yay, Papa!  You did it!

Sometimes I wonder.

I wish it was that easy to claim maturity.  Sometimes I think I’m still a kid when it comes to such things.  And sometimes I feel, well, old.  But there’s a difference between growing up and growing old.  Peter Pan and his Lost Boys were only half right.

It’s OK to be a baby when you’re still a baby.  But there comes a time when the word of God and the world of people come together to shout, “Grow up!” After addressing the Corinthians as a pack of carnal children, Paul writes to the Ephesians that “we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).

How do you measure your maturity?  How do you know when you’re growing and when you’re floundering?  Let me hasten to say that maturity isn’t found in big words or fat bank accounts, or your ability to make babies or get a job (although keeping a job may impress a few people).

In gauging your maturity level, I have found five things that act as measuring rods for progress.  You are as mature as:

1.  The bridges that you build.

As long as you live, you will collide or cooperate with people who are different.  They think differently, act differently, and value different things.  They’re gifted differently and have different life experiences.

Can I just spell it out?  You won’t like ‘em.  Not even a little.  And that’s where maturity comes in, because your differences are God’s idea.  They help us move toward “the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man” (Ephesians 4:13).

Childish people tattle.  Or they take their little childish toys and go home.  Adolescents break off into petty “us versus them” groups and gossip, slander, and criticize others that they are jealous of.

Maturity moves in a completely different direction – toward people who are different.  Maturity involves the relentless pursuit of unity.  And believe me, it’s a lifetime pursuit.

So how growed up are you?  As growed up as the bridges you build toward people who are different.

2.  The Knowledge in Your Heart

Knowing starts out as a head game.  For some people, it never leaves the head.

When our twins started kindergarten at the Christian school at age 4, at some point they heard about heaven and hell.  One of them landed pretty matter-of-factly on that whole idea of eternal punishment.  She would routinely assign anybody who did anything bad to a destiny with the pit.  “They’re going to hell,” she’d say, and she said it a lot.  Often followed by something like, “Can I watch the Disney Channel?”

Knowledge is tricky because we often get facts before we understand how to use them.  That’s why Paul warned that “knowledge puffs up” (1 Corinthians 8:1).  You must have knowledge to have wisdom, but knowledge in the hands of immature people can be dangerous.

So when children (of any age) think they know something that makes them smart (or powerful), they spout it out.  Adolescents socialize knowledge into little secret whispers and code.

Maturity involves moving knowledge from our heads to our hearts.  That’s why first-century Greeks had two different words for knowledge – one for the facts, the other for an intimate, complete, knowledge-by-experience.

Knowledge of the heart involves things like empathy.  Compassion.  Wisdom.  Love.  Narcissists, sociopaths, sophomores and K-4 students need not apply.

How growed up are you?  As growed up as your capacity to “know” with your head and your heart.

3.  The anchors in your soul.

Take an emotional or mental ride with my granddaughter, and within minutes you’ll be seasick.  She bounces from one mood to the next, one focus to the next, one desire to the next.  That’s what two-year-olds do.  Like rudderless soulboats, they’re “tossed here and there” (Ephesians 4:14).

Too cute for a preschooler.

Too pathetic for somebody with a Master’s degree.

A spiritual or emotional baby seeks whatever will give immediate satisfaction to the felt needs of the moment.  He lives largely on the basis of emotions and feelings – and consequently is easily blown about by the latest fads.

Spiritual or emotional adolescents look for whoever or whatever will give them a sense of identity or make them feel good about themselves.  They have a “for rent” sign on their heart – available to any feeling, force, or fellowship that satisfies their need to belong or feel valued.

Maturity means establishing some non-negotiables in your relationships, values, and beliefs.  There really are a few hills on which to die, and mature people recognize that.  Where do you draw your lines in the sand?

How growed up are you?  As growed up as the fixed anchors in your beliefs, values, and relationships.

4.  The life in your words.

I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve known whose lives were devastated by professing Christians who didn’t know when to keep their mouths shut.  Like the woman who got angry with her pastor and started a malicious false rumor about him.  The man’s credibility and career were nearly destroyed.  The woman later felt guilty and went to the pastor to confess her wrong and beg his forgiveness.  He said he would forgive her, but had one request.

“Get a feather pillow, go to the middle of town, tear it open and shake out all the feathers, then being the cover back to me.”

She did as requested.

“Now,” he said.  “I want you to go back and pick up all those feathers.”

“That’s impossible!” she protested.  “When I shook out the feathers, the wind blew them everywhere.”

“That’s how your words are,” said the pastor.  “I can forgive what you have done, but you can never unsay what you have said.”

Children naturally say whatever enters their minds at the moment.  So a kid looks at me a few months ago and asks if I’m pregnant.  And Laura Kate, always ready with a quotable, says last night at dinner that she wants to put on a bra.  You know… those things you put around your neck while you’re eating.

Adolescents learn a more dangerous thing – that words can hurt.  Badly.  But they lack the moral compass, life experience, or conscience to recognize that words live on, even after apologies.

Maturity brings another skill – the ability to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Mature people treat their tongue like a loaded weapon.  And like any loaded weapon, its use and effectiveness depends on how true the aim is, and on what motivates the use of it.  Bad aim +/- bad motives = destructive force.  Good aim + good heart = life-changing power.

So how growed up are you?  As growed up as your ability to shut up, speak up, and love regardless.

5.  The engagement of your gifts.

In just about every New Testament discussion of maturity, the conversation eventually gets around to spiritual gifts, or to every believer doing her individual part in Kingdom life.

People who fully engage in using their own gifts don’t have time to stop and criticize others for the ways they use theirs.  Those who leave it all on the field in their own arena of giftedness have neither the time nor the inclination to compare themselves to somebody else.

Children stay busy randomly playing at everything.  Adolescents often withdraw into a world of insecurity, inferiority, or inadequacy – and remain there.  Churches are filled with both.

Maturity involves finding out how you’re gifted and exercising those gifts to glorify God and serve others.  Like everything else, that’s a lifetime pursuit.

How growed up are you?  As growed up as your awareness and engagement of your gifts and abilities.

 

You are the same today as you were 10 years ago – and will be the same 10 years from now as you are today – except for two things:  your relationships and your response to growth opportunities.

You don’t have to grow old.  But don’t you think it’s time to grow up?

That’s an awesome plan.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Cassie May 1, 2011 at 3:31 pm

Great piece. Loved it.

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