I recently read a very interesting book that provided an intriguing look at growing up, maturing (wait for it…wait for it… yes, here it is, an associate link: The Life Model: Living from the heart Jesus gave you). I’ve already looked at the infant stage and the child stage of maturity, today, we want to look at the adult stage (ages 13-birth of the first child).
The Adult Stage (13 to birth of first child)
The infant staged was marked by complete neediness. The infant neither knows what it needs or how to express its needs. Someone else has to provide for the baby’s needs. The infant moves into the childhood stage as he learns to take care of himself. The child learns how to express needs, wants and feelings. However, the only person the child is capable of caring for is self. “You will know when a person has graduated from the child level of maturity to the adult level because he will shift from a being a self-centered child to a both-centered adult. While a child needs to learn me-centered fairness (how do I make it fair for me), an adult learns we-centered fairness (how do I make it fair for us)” (pp. 21-22). If it seems that in any given relationship you have to give more, listen more, tolerate more to maintain the relationship then the other person is likely still in the child stage. By the same token, if you spend most of your relationships complaining about how everyone else doesn’t seem to give you what you need, perhaps you are seeing a need to work on maturity in your own life. That is especially the case if you are complaining about your kids not giving enough. Sadly, in too many cases we have children in adult bodies, expecting adults in children’s bodies to provide their needs for them. That is dysfunction at its height. Yet, many of us are blinded to it because of our own immaturity.
There are 6 personal tasks each person must accomplish in the adult stage of maturity to move on to the next level:
- The adult learns to care for self and others simultaneously in mutually satisfying relationships.
- The adult learns to remain stable in difficult situations, and learns how to return self and others to joy.
- The adult learns to bond with peers and develops a group identity.
- The adult learns to take responsibility for how personal actions affect others, including protecting others from self.
- The adult learns to contribute to the community; learns how to articulate “who we are” as part of belonging to the community.
- The adult learns to express the characteristics of his or hear heart in a deepening personal style (p. 31).
The adult accomplishes these tasks as his or her family and community accomplishes the following tasks respectively:
- The family and community provides opportunities for the adult to participate in group life.
- The family and community affirms that the adult will make it through difficult times.
- The family and community provides positive environment where peers can bond.
- The family and community teaches adults that their behaviors impact others and impact history.
- The family and community provides opportunities to be involved in important community tasks.
- The family and community holds the adult accountable while still accepting and affirming the aspects of his or her true self (p. 31).
As you can see, adulthood is the time when we learn how to relate well to others. Adulthood is when we learn how to care for others as well as ourselves. As infants, we were dependent. As children, we learn independence. As adults, we learn interdependence.
As a community or a family, we must learn to provide the opportunities for the adult to practice interdependence. I think this is a struggle for most North American communities because we prize independence so much. We think we are promoting maturity, when actually we are locking people into immaturity.
Stuck in Adulthood
If we do not learn these lessons of maturity, there are some pretty significant dysfunctions that develop in our lives. If we cannot accomplish the task of caring for others along with self, we remain self-centered. Other people will always be dissatisfied with us, they will be frustrated with us. Our relationships will never deepen. We’ll never be able to have truly mutually deep relationships. What an impact not learning these lessons will have in marriage. Do you think perhaps this is the reason the divorce rate is so high these days?
If we never learn to hang on to stability and return to joy despite what we face, we’ll learn instead to conform to peer pressures. We’ll rely on negative and destructive group activities. Is it any wonder that gangs become popular for young adults. They aren’t learning to have personal stability or to find stability from God, so they get involved in groups that seem to provide some kind of stability and identity. Of course, the other potential problem is not bonding with any group and becoming a loner, isolating, having a huge sense of self-importance. We’ll think we can handle everything on our own and cause damage in all our relationships.
If we cannot learn to take personal responsibility for our own actions and how our actions impact others, we can become controlling, manipulative, blaming, harmful. We crash through life without concern for who is in our path. This includes damage inflicted on spouses and even children, not to mention co-workers, neighbors, fellow church members. All we can think about is ourselves and what we aren’t getting. We will never stop to think what others are facing and how our actions impact them. We only think about how they impact us and we become users and manipulators.
If we cannot learn to contribute to the community, we become a drain on the community. There doesn’t seem to be much in between ground here. We are either uplifting or we are down-dragging. We are either adding life to our family and community or we are sucking life out of it.
Finally, if we cannot learn to express who we are and the God-given characteristics of our heart, we’ll never have the self-confidence to live the way God has designed us. Instead, we’ll constantly be trying to fill roles that others have developed for us. We’ll spin our wheels trying to prove ourselves to the world, to our peers, to the “judges” of our community. We will constantly hang on the approval of others and even become willing to sell out on our values to get it (p. 31).
If you are like me, you may have thought just getting to adulthood is good enough, learning the childhood lessons ought to be fine. However, if we wish to have personal fulfillment and be beneficial to our families and communities (neighborhood, church, work) we need to keep working on maturing.
The Spiritual Application For Individuals
We’re not done growing. We’ve learned what we need as Christians. We’ve learned how to express our needs. We’ve learned how we fit in the big picture of Christianity, our congregation, our community. We’ve even learned to take care of ourselves. But God didn’t save us through Jesus so we could take care of ourselves. God saved us so we could be a blessing to others. God saved us so we can learn to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).
This is where our faith really gets tested. During infancy and childhood, we may think there aren’t any problems out there in the Christian world. We may develop idealistic notions that as long as we do what is right, everything will just work out. But that is not how it works. Satan attacks. Others falter. Personalities clash. Immaturity causes dysfunction. We continue to struggle with issues we think should have been overcome early on. We can become disillusioned with Christ and His church and even our own growth. We need to learn that daily problems doesn’t mean something is wrong. It just means we are growing. We are in a process. Things will work out. That is the promise God is explaining in Romans 8:28-30. We need to learn confidence in God that He is working on our behalf. That will help us have stability and continued growth.
We need to learn to overcome isolation. That is going to mean sharing our secrets with other Christians (James 5:16). That’s going to mean spending time with our brethren even when the church hasn’t planned something. Did you notice that the very first Christians didn’t just meet in congregational assemblies, they also met from house to house (Acts 2:46). That wasn’t a church planned activity. Those were individual Christians opening their homes and developing relationships instead of isolating on their own.
We have to learn to contribute to the church community. This is so much more than learning to lead a public prayer or teach a Bible class. Look at the example of Tabitha in Acts 9:36-43. Here was a woman, probably single, perhaps a widow. Did she wait for the church to ask her to participate in some congregationally planned service activity? No. She saw a need and she filled it. She made garments for those in need. She didn’t do everything, but she did what she could. She didn’t serve everyone, but she served who she could. She didn’t wait to be asked. She just served. She contributed. What I can’t help but notice is that James, an apostle, was killed in Acts 12. The disciples mourned and buried him. Stephen, an evangelist and a deacon (I believe), was killed in Acts 7. The disciples mourned and buried him. Tabitha, who held no office and wasn’t seemingly a “major player” in the church, dies and the disciples call in Peter and say, “Something has to be done about this.” The others were laid to rest and Tabitha was brought back to keep on serving. Perhaps this tells us how important this part of our maturity really is.
Don’t give up. Keep on growing spiritually.
The Spiritual Application for Congregations
We might think if Christians grow through infancy and then make it through spiritual childhood, they’re good. We can leave them on their own to progress. Not so. Certainly, as adults, they are responsible for their maturity. However, as a church we need to help them mature. We need to provide the opportunities they need to progress in spiritual adulthood, or they’ll get locked into spiritual adolescence. Sadly, I think numerous churches suffer because they are filled with a lot of Christians who never get passed spiritual puberty. They’re locked in the awkward stage of gaining independence but not knowing how to deal with interpersonal relationships. They never learn how to be a productive part of the church family. They can answer the doctrinal questions right. They can challenge error. They can even sometimes think for themselves and see where we need to make changes. However, they don’t know how to express that. They don’t understand how their inappropriate expressions destroy relationships. We need to help with that.
What are we doing for the growing Christians to be part of the group life? Don’t just think in terms of the assemblies. Sadly, as I pointed out in the last stage, we often do great and having training classes on how to lead public prayers and give talks. But what about being really involved in the community of the congregation. What are we doing to help these growing Christians be a contributing factor in the lives of the other saints around them? Are we teaching them how to encourage others? What about hospital visits? Visiting the shut-ins? What about teaching them to contribute to the secular community? Sadly, most churches today are taking the easy road. Instead of teaching the growing Christians to provide contribution to the world around them, they just take up a weekly collection and then let the church contribute to the secular community. I don’t believe that is the church’s job. The church needs to teach growing Christians how to contribute to the society around them.
What are we doing to encourage growing Christians to develop community with other growing Christians? Do we do much more than our assemblies? The question is not of churches providing social time for the members. The point is for more mature Christians to take less mature Christians under their wings and bring them into relationships with others. The problem is all too often we don’t have the more mature Christians. We just have a bunch of adolescent Christians clamoring for someone else to do something and provide something for them. We don’t have to get involved in unscriptural activities for the local church in order to accomplish this. We simply have to step outside our “we’ve never done anything like that” box and creatively consider scriptural options to get growing Christians together.
Finally, what are we doing to help growing Christians really see how their unique gifts can benefit the congregation and benefit the kingdom? Too often we simply preach guilt building lessons that make people feel bad because they are doing some thing or the other. What if instead we spent that time to find what people are gifted for and encourage them in those areas? What if instead of sweeping with broad brushes and expecting everyone to be Stepford Christians, we learn to accept folks as individuals with quirks and struggles, but with gifts and talents and learn to help them capitalize on their strengths instead of feeling guilty for their weaknesses?
Do you think we and our brethren would grow if we took this approach? Do you think churches would grow if they took this approach?
Tell me what you think. Does this sound a like a legitimate step of maturity? How do you think we can unstick ourselves if we are stuck in this level? Do we need to be concerned about it at all?