Characteristics of Maturity, Part I
If I were asked, "How can you tell if a person is mature?" I would respond by saying, "If a person consistently acts in a mature manner, he would be a mature person. However, if on the other hand he consistently acts in an immature manner, you can be certain that he would be an immature person." As Aristotle said, "We are what we repeatedly do."
While none of us is perfect or completely mature, if we understand the characteristics of maturity, we can work on these areas to grow in maturity. While there are many characteristics, the following certainly would be among the top five:
Emotional maturity. While spiritual maturity is reflected in the quality of our relationship to God, emotional maturity is reflected in the quality of our relationships with people. They go hand in hand. As God's Words say, "If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen."1 Thus, in reality, I'm no closer to God than I am to people.
Without a reasonable level of emotional maturity, it is virtually impossible to have healthy interpersonal relationships. Immaturity is without doubt a major cause of impaired relationships and failed marriages. Emotional maturity means that we will have a healthy self-conceptónot thinking too highly or too lowly of ourselves. This will include a healthy sense of self-acceptance and self-worth, which will also determine how well we do in many other areas of life. If I fail to accept myself in a healthy way, it makes it extremely difficult to accept others in a healthy way. This is because the issues I reject in myself, I will automatically reject in others.
Emotional maturity also involves being in touch with all of our God-given emotions and that these are well integrated into every area of life. Unless one is connected to his or her inner-self (his/her emotions and motives), meaningful communications and intimate relationships are impossible. It also requires that, wherever possible, impaired relationships from the past are resolved, that we have forgiven all who have ever hurt us, and that all supercharged, repressed negative emotions from past experiences are resolved.
Personal responsibility. Another vital characteristic of maturity is acting responsibly and appropriately in all situationsóneither overreacting nor under-reacting. People overreact when unresolved painful issues from the past are triggered and they react as if they were responding to the original hurt. People under-react when they withdraw from dealing with an issue they need to confront and resolve. Some excuse this behavior as being Christian and not wanting to hurt someone's feelings. Rather, it is basically being weak, afraid, or insecureónot to mention being dishonest.
As John Powell so eloquently said, "We defend our dishonesty on the grounds that it may hurt another person and then, having rationalized our phoniness into nobility, we settle for superficial relationships."
True, "I may have been a victim in the past but if I remain a victim, I am now a willing volunteer." Acting in a mature manner means that I now accept personal responsibility for every area of life. It means that I refuse to play the blame-game. Consistently blaming someone else for the difficulties I have will cause me to B-LAMEóemotionally, that is.
When working with divorced people, I have found that so many primarily blame their former partner for the breakdown of their relationship. They fail to see that they, too, contributed to the conflict either by being too weak, too passive, too codependent, too over-dependent, too independent, too needy, too afraid of closeness, or in any of a score of other ways.
On one occasion a friend once said to me, "Are you angry at me because I've been divorced three times?" "Angry, no," I answered, "afraid, yes!" "Well they were all jerks," she responded. So I asked, "Well, why did you marry them?"
The last I heard is that my friend is now in her fifth marriage.
The reality is unless we act responsibly and admit, confront, and resolve our personal issues, we are destined to repeat past failures. It's either resolution or repetition.
Suggested prayer: "Dear God, thank you that you love and accept me as I am, but love me too much to leave me as I am. Please help me to see every area of immaturity in my life and, with your help, resolve and overcome these issues. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully in Jesus' name, amen."
1. 1 John 4:20 (NIV).