Therefore let us go on toward perfection, leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ, and not laying again the foundation: repentance from dead works and faith toward God, instruction about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. Hebrew 6:1-2
When you hear the expression “maturing in Christ” what comes to mind? I hear these words a lot and for every person who speaks these words I sense a different definition. And yet that very person would likely assume that everyone understands, and likely agrees, on their interpretation of spiritual maturity.
The other day someone told me a former colleague had observed that I was “much more mature that I used to be.” I thought about it. I was not defensive, I have heard this observation before, and I let it sit with me for a while. Maturity is an interesting word, and again it means different things to different people. My sense is that maturity is a process and what shifts our interpretation is the goal, the end-game of this evolution. In other words if the goal in life is to be considerate of others then maturity means someone is shifting with age in that direction. If the goal in life is some kind of inner and outer visible piety then those who exhibit an obvious faith life were maturing in faith. If the goal in life is to be independent then an individual’s journey from their parent’s basement to their own home is a sure sign of maturity.
The hope in life is that we learn from the past and lean into our future with wisdom that teaches us where we need to adjust our outlook and efforts. Maturity is such a learning, it means we are working at our own issues and quirks and imperfections to be the person we aim to be. That process can be measured and observed. We value people who consciously make this transition, we like them more, they irritate us less, and we see them joining the ranks of the rest of us and our commonly held values.
But there are a lot of assumptions to “maturity” that we need to address. Who determines what that goal is that we are working toward? For instance if the goal is social conformity and a young person is conspicuously “different” does that mean s/he is maturing as s/he becomes just like the rest of us? I would argue it does not. Most of those we now hold up as witnesses to a better way of being human were not seen as conformists and their lack of “common sense” was heavily criticized in their own time. Only as history bent to justice did we come to see these saints in a new light.
But of course there are those whose behaviour drives us a little batty, people who talk only of themselves, people who are rude, people who remain child-like in the worst sense of that word. Maturity in those terms means understanding the world around us, that it is not “all about us” and making adjustments in our way of being that tempers these imperfections and moves to a better and more caring personality.
For myself I was “immature” in that I liked to show off. I still do, so comments like “he is improved” seem a little odd to me. But the nature of the showing off has shifted. I now show off for my own enjoyment, I am more relaxed and less frantic. You won’t see me all over the media or showing up all over the church looking for attention. Still I like to have fun and enjoy being the catalyst for this, sending people funny email, youtube videos, making humourous observations. But caring whether people like me as a result of said showing off has dramatically changed. And I think that is likely what people see and like and judge as “maturity”.
What most people need to do as they grow and live is to mature in consideration of others. I see this played out dramatically in the people I meet, early in their life it is all about them, later they come to see the value and need to think of others. In an odd way I had this piece of wisdom given to me at a very early age, I appeared on this criterion of maturity to be mature beyond my years. Again the definition of maturity shifts with expectations, if showing off is the sign of immaturity, I have changed. If consideration of others is how we measure maturity I don’t think I have changed a bit.
Finally, I would caution on how we measure maturity. I don’t think it is a straight line. When people say I am more mature than I was in my youth I agree but I don’t think people see the consequences. I am more grounded now, I measure myself less by what others think and more by an inner voice that is the source of most of my sense of how I am doing. BUT this shift has also made me more edgy, less concerned by whether people are upset or irritated by my actions. I tell people I am happier today than ever, but others may be less happy to have me around. I was a people-pleaser once, which made me a very popular Minister. Now that I listen more to than inner voice I am less popular, less well-liked.
What is the goal for your life? Where are you heading? Once you know that, once you have a sense of where you want your life to go you can begin to determine if your behaviour is moving you in that direction. You will then know if you are maturing. I pray God will guide you with an inner voice so that you may mature in the light and direction of Christ.