Originally posted on Facebook–September, 2010
And how much has changed? More than it seems. Yet, much remains the same. My twentieth birthday doesn’t seem all that long ago. Well, that is, until I think of everything I’ve learned and experienced since that birthday. Maturity is something that I believe comes with time. Maybe it never comes for some. I like one of the definitions Dictionary.com provides:
The state of being mature; ripeness: The fruit will reach maturity in a few days.
While the word mature can mean to complete or perfect, I prefer the example of reaching optimal development—ripening like fruit. I prefer it because I have trouble believing that we ever reach a point of completion or perfection, no matter how many years we live. Sometimes, it seems that maturity is more about reaching a keener awareness for all of one’s failings, and turning that awareness into a remorseful, yet joyful, acceptance. Maturity as it pertains to humans, isn’t necessarily about perfection—nor is it about quitting the quest for self-betterment. The Serenity Prayer sums up my best understanding of maturity succinctly:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
The “wisdom to know the difference” part of this prayer is key. It’s essential to “know the difference” to act wisely. Therefore, to know the difference often requires having experienced similar situations prior. In short, it demands time.
Now, while time can be effective for seasoning, similar to the like-sounding spice (thyme), it’s not the lone ingredient for obtaining wisdom. Growing in maturity requires both observation and experimentation. Watching others act and seeing the outcomes of those actions can sometimes save us from suffering the same fate when the actions that were taken were unwise. Other times, it’s necessary to make decisions based on what we believe to be right, even when we we’ll possibly suffer for following our convictions.
Such decisions have typically come when I couldn’t reconcile my understanding of scripture with what I’d seen others do when in similar predicaments; though personally advantageous if I’d follow the crowd, I’d ultimately listen to Robert Frost’s advice and “take the road less traveled.” All that being said, I believe that I’ve grown in maturity these past ten years. Looking back to when I was a young twenty year-old, I wasn’t nearly as mature as I had thought. Suffice it to say, if I make it another ten years, I wouldn’t be surprised if I reflect back and possess a much different perspective of my maturity level at thirty.
An introspective person, who tends to reflect on the past and often struggles with the present, being too concerned with anticipating the future, I decided it’d be a good exercise to write down some of my life-lessons learned (until possibly unlearned) during my twenties. That way, as I continue towards senility, I can look back and remind myself, “Wait a minute. I already made that mistake!”
If I could encapsulate all these lessons learned into one phrase, it’d be this:
Now that I’ve given the Cliff Notes (TM) version of my thoughts moving forward, you may decide to be efficient and stop right here. Though, if curious, by all means, read onward. Just be aware that these lessons learned are specifically those that I’ve personally garnered during my twenties. Many reading this note may possess greater maturity than I, whether older or younger. Take it for what it is: Personal reflection which may or may not be relevant to you.
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AUTHENTICITY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN PUBLIC PERCEPTION
“Don’t fake the funk on the nasty dunk.” ~ Shaq
This paradoxical phrase, credited to Shaquille O’Neal during the early years of his professional career, effectively hides profound wisdom; burrowed beneath its catchy Ebonics. It encourages sincerity of emotion, while discouraging exaggeration for guiding public perception. It is what it is. I can see where so many times I turned something into either more or less than it actually was through exaggeration.
There have been many times in the past ten years where I didn’t regret the action that I took in a particular instance, but was more worried about what others would perceive. Every time I reflect on such moments, I realize that I had committed my energies towards a mute matter. People are going to think what they’re going to think based on the information that they have available to them with which to deduce their intentions. Furthermore, as people are different in their values and beliefs, trying to manipulate perspectives is an inexact science. What control do we really have in the perceptions others have about us? Not as much as we believe is my guess.
There’s a two-fold beauty in putting ourselves out into open-view. First, it allows people to better understand what we’re about as people, and where our lives may currently be situated. Second, it brings out our blemishes; providing others the opportunity to hold us accountable. While that may not sound appealing, time and again, people (myself included) demonstrate an inability to consistently hold themselves accountable without partners to assist them in the process. Personally, I know that I can create rationalizations that act as justifications to pursue those temptations surrounding me. To be held accountable to those things I state to believe, by others who believe likewise, keeps me from being that which I dislike most: A hypocrite.
It seems that as I get older, it only gets harder not to put up walls; keeping my insecurities out of view. That’s because as I continue living in this broken world, people will on occasion attack me whenever I leave myself vulnerable for it. Sometimes, the attacks come from family and friends. Such attacks, being from loved ones, cause the greatest pain—but that’s why it’s necessary to forgive and to be forgiven. However, the things that I tend to hide are those things that leave me most vulnerable, and of which I’m most ashamed.
I’m thankful that Jesus didn’t allow the ill-conceived perceptions of his fellow Jews to dissuade him from doing what was necessary for loving us and securing our salvation. Instead, he allowed their perceptions to be what they were, so as to save them from themselves. His vulnerability and subsequent death brought us life. Only after the resurrection did the perceptions of some of those same people change. Unfortunately, even after his resurrection, some people still held negative perceptions. If Jesus, in the greatest act of love couldn’t please everyone, how can we?
We can’t. All we can do is strive to do that which we believe to be right and act for that which we believe to be good.
The Contradictory Revelation: Embracing Conflict Brings Peace
“It is better to give open rebuke than hidden love” (Proverbs 27:5, NIV).
This lesson learned is similar to the preceding one in that it occasionally requires confrontation. Note that the above says “Embracing Conflict” and not “Enjoying Conflict.” Sometimes I think that this is part of the “persecution” Christians were promised in the book of James. Yet, so many people, whether or not they profess to be Christian, ignore conflict. They pretend that it doesn’t exist. This philosophy has the same logic as if I were to say, “I may be standing in the middle of a highway with cars rapidly approaching me, but there’s no risk as long as I ignore them.”
As a Christian, it’s essential to speak Truth into the lives of others. If someone is living with lies, what’s most likely to occur? Conflict. Christians should be gracious and loving to non-Christians, lovingly strategic in how we speak; cunning as a serpents, for we’re sheep amongst wolves….biblically speaking. And Christians should be lovingly direct and honest with their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, keeping one another accountable to their beliefs. Sadly, many Christians (lump me in here too at times) are overly critical of non-Christians while being overly passive towards fellow Christians.
My thought for why this happens is that Christians typically have close relationships with other Christians (through fellowship and same-held beliefs), and may subconsciously treat non-Christians as tasks of goodwill; not necessarily as a person of equal worth. We can lose sight of our intentions and evangelize for points with God rather than love for that person…and fail in both regards. Selfishly, we often don’t confront our fellow Christians because we’re worried more about our relationship with them in this life, and not enough about their relationship with God in this life and the one to come.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’ll likely be necessary at times for me to risk my relationships with others out of a deep love for them. If in speaking with loving truth to someone, they walk away from me, I must accept it and hope that eventually God will use my loving and relational sacrifice for that person’s benefit.
Paul tells us that if I search for the Truth, it’ll lead me to Christ. I believe this. The life of Christ shows me how I’m supposed to live—not that I’ve yet been capable of following Jesus’ example in any significant capacity. As best as I can determine, Christ was compassionate to those who needed compassion, while being confrontational with those that needed to be confronted. And, while it may not seem as though it will bring peace, I believe in the Truth that ultimately, God makes all things bring Him glory. We may just not be able to see it in our limited perspective—being but a drop of (hopefully “salt”) water in His big ocean.
My small group is currently reading Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. We’re currently on a chapter titled “Grow Into An Emotionally Mature Adult.” I’ve taken an excerpt from that chapter, which explains the need to embrace conflict better than I:
Ignoring Conflict—False Peacemaking
A tragically misinterpreted verse in the New Testament is Jesus’ proclamation: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). Most people think that Jesus calls us in this verse to be pacifiers and appeasers who ensure that nobody gets upset. We are to keep the peace, ignoring difficult issues and problems, making sure things remain stable and serene.
When, out of fear, we avoid conflict and appease people, we are false peacemakers. For example:
Karl is upset about the behavior of his spouse who constantly comes home later after work. He says nothing. Why? He thinks he is being like Christ by not saying anything, although he does give her a cold shoulder. He is a false peacemaker.
Pam disagrees with her coworkers at a lunch when they slander her boss. She is afraid to speak up. She goes along. I don’t want to kill the atmosphere by speaking up and disagreeing, she thinks. She is a false peacemaker.
Bob goes to dinner with ten other people. He is tight financially, so he orders only a salad and appetizer. Meanwhile, the other nine order appetizers, steak, wine, and desserts. When the bill comes, someone says, “Let’s divide up the bill equally. It will take forever to figure it out.” Everyone agrees. Bob is dying on the inside but won’t say anything. He is a false peacemaker.
Yolanda is engaged. She would like more time to rethink her decision but is afraid that her fiancé and his family will get angry. She goes through with the wedding. She is a false peacemaker.
Ellen loves her parents. They are both quite critical about how she raises her children. Each holiday is filled with tension. Ellen doesn’t say anything because she doesn’t want to hurt their feelings. She is a false peacemaker.
Sharon thinks her boyfriend is irresponsible but feels bad for him. He has so much pain already in his life, she thinks. How can I add to that? So she backs down from telling him the truth about the way his behavior is slowly killing their relationship. The relationship dies a slow death. She is a false peacemaker.
The problem with all these scenarios is that the way of true peace will never come through pretending what is wrong is right! True peacemakers love God, others, and themselves enough to disrupt false peace. Jesus models this for us.
Embracing Conflict—The Path to True Peace
Conflict and trouble were central to the mission of Jesus. He disrupted the false peace all around him—in the lives of his disciples, the crowds, the religious leaders, the Romans, those buying and selling in the temple. He taught that true peacemaking disrupts false peace even in families: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household” (Matthew 10:34-36).
Why? We can’t have the true peace of Christ’s kingdom with lies and pretense. They must be exposed to the light and replaced with the truth. This is the mature, loving thing to do.
In the Beatitudes, Jesus explains to us the characteristics we need to display if we’re to engage in true peacemaking—poverty of spirit, meekness, purity of heart, mercy, etc. (Matthew 5:3-11). He also follows the call to true peacemaking by stating that persecution will follow for those of us who follow Him in this.
Nonetheless, unresolved conflicts are one of the greatest tensions in Christians’ lives today. Most of us hate them. We don’t know what to do with them. Instead of risking any more broken relationships, we prefer to ignore the difficult issues and settle for a “false peace,” hoping against hope that they’ll somehow go away. They don’t. And we all learn, sooner or later, that we can’t build Christ’s kingdom on lies and pretense. Only the truth will do.
IDENTITY THROUGH ORIGINALITY IS FRUITLESS
“Originality is the fine art of remembering what you hear but forgetting where you heard it.” ~ Dr. Laurence J. Peters
Being in the image of God, we have a desire to create. We take what the Lord provides and play with it like kids in a sand box. But, unlike God, we cannot create from nothing. For us to have been able to create anything, it must’ve already been known by God.
Regardless, I find joy in exercising this creative nature God gave me. Moreover, there should be some form of joy experienced from playing in the sand box my Heavenly Father has provided. What father wouldn’t want to see his child enjoy the gifts that He has bestowed upon them?
A cousin of creativity is originality. When in a creative state, I don’t want to think that what I just did has been done before—I want to have done something new and different. I want to enhance my little place in the world. I want to express originality.
But what can I do that is truly original, even in my relationships with others?
With age, I’ve become more of a reader. There comes pleasure in learning when someone isn’t telling us what we need to learn. When reading books on common subjects, the materials within each are nearly identical. It’s the presentation of that material that varies. The author of each book puts their own spin in regards to how they view the subject, but there’s a often a point of definiteness to the subject’s substance. Even how I interpret something isn’t necessarily original to me, but influenced by my prior experiences and current beliefs. Does anyone think that this note would occasionally refer to scripture if I wasn’t a Christian? Possibly, though less likely.
The problem that I’ve had in the past, and will occasionally lapse into, is seeking identity based on originality. Personally, while I want to be accepted and welcomed into a community, I also have an urge to be considered exceptional as an individual. We’re all special, and all unique. It concerns me, however, when I take those characteristics that make me unique, and place them on a pedestal in comparison with those traits of others. In doing so, I’m placing a greater importance on who I see myself as, versus what I see in others. Also, I’m creating an idol out of my identity. In a way, I’m trying to take on a role that isn’t mine to hold: God.
Sometimes I think this was one of the points that Jesus makes when he says that the world is for the children. Children haven’t been exposed to this fallen world nearly as long, and have an innocence which adults lose as they experience more. A child’s identity isn’t nearly as rigid as an adult’s, because it hasn’t been reinforced over time by the sinful tendencies of secular society (and, unfortunately, Christian society too). Our identity should be found in Christ…yet, is often found in the things of this world—or on Facebook.
It’s shameful to me that I even have such tendencies. In trying to find ways to separate myself as a step above from others, I’m taking away from that which makes healthy community possible: Commonalities. As a Christian, I’m able to bask in the loving grace of Christ with others who have received Him as Lord and Savior. I can give praise to him with others, I can honor God by loving others as he has loved me. I can be a support to my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and they for me. Why would I want to try to separate myself from such bliss?
IT’S BEST TO MAKE ASSESSMENTS OF OTHERS WITH MY OWN LENS
There was a wonderful sermon on the Lord’s Prayer that I heard while attending Victory World Church years ago. Some of its points resonated with me, and have stayed with me since. The sermon emphasized that it’s necessary for me to forgive others, so that I could be forgiven. The pastor also explained that the word “offense” in scripture was the Greek word “skandalon,” and that this word refers to a baited trap in the ancient Greek language. He said that many times Satan sets us up with wrongs done to our family and friends. We take the “bait,” and take “offense,” sometimes holding more contempt or judgment towards that wrongdoer than if they’d directly wronged us.
We’re not helping our friends by taking offense. We’re encouraging them to be unforgiving as we’re unforgiving. This doesn’t mean that we’re to approve the sinful offense, or even forget that it happened. Rather, we should desire that they allow love into their hearts to forgive the person.
Again, this comes back to possessing humility and realizing that we’ve all been the wrongdoer at times. Just as when Jesus said to the mob that “he without sin cast the first stone,” being but a member of the mob, I need to operate with humility or succumb to hypocritical behaviors.
This leads me to what I consider a heavily practiced tradition in Southern culture: social group think. Every time that I’ve entered into a new social arena while living in GA, I’ve encountered the same challenge. From conversations with others, I’ve learned that almost everyone encounters it too. Groups, while on the exterior friendly (remember that whole ignoring conflict thing), aren’t truly inviting.
If someone within the group hasn’t brought the new person into their group (a.k.a, someone shows up not knowing anyone), it can be difficult to be accepted. If a few people in the group aren’t “sold” on the new person, then that person will probably be excluded in anything where those people are part of the group. Sometimes, it appears that people who’ve never even had a conversation with the new person, possess an opinion on them based on conversations with their friends. Obviously, if we’re someone that everyone likes right away, this is advantageous for us. However, if we’re someone that’s willing to embrace the conflict in our life…and subsequently can leave poor first impressions with those who ignore conflict, this could leave us enduring group exclusion for quite some time. I can think of a few people that if they hadn’t started to vouch for me, I’d likely still be trying to find my niche within some social groups.
And personally, some of my closest friends have been people that I hadn’t left with a positive first impression. While I’ve made more efforts to address this tendency, it still seems to be my modus operandi. Therefore, I’d probably have no friends at all if not for the selfless humility and graciousness of these people to truly get to know me.
As a result, it’d be even more hypocritical for me to not be open to new people that are trying to find their niche in one of my social settings. This isn’t to say that everyone will become my friend. That’s not realistic, nor necessarily healthy. But by taking a more invested and considerate, initial effort with people, both that other person and I will have a better understanding of one another…and hopefully, at worst, be a friendly acquaintance rather than two faces of a mob…
FRIENDSHIP IS SACRED AND SHOULD BE TREATED AS SUCH
“A friend loveth at all times, and is a brother through adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one can be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Proverbs 27:6).
“A righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray” (Proverbs 12:26).
This weekend I’ll be attending a family reunion on my mother’s side. My immediate family is small. Most of these relatives will be fourth cousins or even more distant. I’ve never met most of these people, but decided that it’d be prudent to do so, because these reunions may not continue whenever Grandma Daisy goes to be with the Lord.
Truly, I’ve considered my friends to be synonymous with extended family throughout my life. As I’ve said numerous times in the past, friends are the family we choose. And, technically, I believe we’re all descendants from Adam and Eve, so we’re related by blood anyway.
Friends often serve roles that our blood families have either been unable to fill or poorly fill. Plus, a friend does it because they choose to play a role in our life. In a loving family, family members—while they love one another—have a familial responsibility to one another as well. Sadly, I think we all use the word “friend” much too loosely.
I wish there was a one word descriptor specifically designated in the English language to acknowledge our friendly acquaintances. One that didn’t make someone feel unloved and insignificant if someone used it. I think that’s why we use the word “friend” so freely. We’re attempting to be civil and nice. The only problem with such practice, is that it slights the investment of those people that I’d call “biblical friends,” or “true friends.”
By “biblical,” I don’t mean King David or Peter or Job. A “biblical” friend to me is someone that falls under Proverb 17:17. Such people KNOW us, want to know us continually better, and love us as family. These people are the ones that would possibly take a bullet (i.e. die) for us. “Biblical” friends don’t run away from us when everyone else does. They make sacrifices on our behalf when no one else will. Such friends are loyal.
“Biblical” friends also realize the importance of speaking honestly to us, even when our response to it could be undesirable—because they love us too much to lie. They keep us accountable to ourselves, and attempt to prevent us from getting in our own way.
When we’re discouraged in doing what is right, “biblical” friends are there for encouragement. They’re part of our foundation. These people are loyal, dependable, honest, and trustworthy.
Though, how many times do we hear the word “friend” used for the drinking buddy that always gets drunk and leads us into poor situations? Or, the person who likes being around us because all the physically attractive people seem to flock to to us…and they’d like to be with one of those people? Or, the person that we always see at parties and social events, but they’re never willing to make time to spend with us in a smaller settings, and really get to know us. Or, the person that is always asking us for help, but when we need help they’re conveniently (i.e. always) busy?
That’s why, while we should be loving to all, to allow someone into legitimate friendship requires real thought. It shouldn’t be “for a season.” And if anyone believes that their number of “true friends” corresponds to the number “Facebook friends” that they possess, then I’d have to presume that they have significantly fewer Facebook friends than me.
All relationships should have a reciprocal nature; not because of obligation, but because of love for one another.
Which means that…
THE HEALTH OF MY RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD POSITIVELY CORRELATES WITH THE HEALTH OF MY RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHERS
“Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5).
I’ve come to realize that, generally, the better my relationship is with the Lord, the better my relationships are with other people. On a related note, I’ve learned that it’s important for me to be consistent in reading the Bible. When I fail to read the Word regularly, I consistently fall into bad habits. I begin to take for granted the grace that Jesus has secured for me. Like that distant relative that I last saw as a five year-old, my perception of God becomes hazier. It becomes easier for Satan to deceive me, as the Truth (which is the Word) doesn’t stay on mind. I must “meditate on it day and night” (Joshua 1:8).
It’s key for me to be volitional in all aspects of my relationship with God, but especially with investing in His Word. It’s the Word that God often uses to reveal aspects of Himself to us. If I don’t regularly read scripture, then I begin to slack in other areas of the relationship. It always seems to work that way for me.
To bear fruit, I need to allow God to be active in my life. My relationship with God has to be at the forefront of my intentions, which leads me to make good decisions, and subsequently engage in fruit bearing activities.
Whenever I read Matthew 7:21-23, it convicts me of my failure to consistently keep my relationship with the Lord at the top of my priorities:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'”
How often other things have slowly crept into my life and become idols that take me away from a healthy relationship with God. I struggle to even fathom the idea of losing the opportunity for eternal relationship with God because I was more consumed by lesser things during my stay in this life. How foolish it sounds to make such decisions, right!?! Yet, how many of us place ourselves at risk by doing that very thing? How many of us are willing to risk losing this undeserved, yet ultimately desired gift?
Repentance is essential for forgiveness. And to repent requires me to see the sin in my life. For a long time, I failed to acknowledge some sins as just that. Instead of sins, I considered such things as gluttony or sloth…bad habits.
Having Bad Habits Is Just another Way of Saying I Have an Addiction
“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34).
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
The above words are important enough to be stated twice in the Bible. Ponder that for a moment. These were words quoted from Jesus, the incarnate God; the Son of Man. When our relationship with God isn’t first in our lives, it allows for good things to be placed as great things. We, being designed to worship, then turn these things into false idols.
I believe that once the devil sees us err, he utilizes that sin more effectively into his deceptions. We can hear the words in our heads telling us that it’s okay to eat that pint of ice cream…we didn’t have a soda all day. Or, that while we promised to get the proposal to our boss on Tuesday, it doesn’t really need to be finished until Thursday…so why not take it easy on ourselves? It’s my thought that the devil exaggerates the pleasure that such sins give us…giving us that little extra push to do it again. Eventually, it becomes a routine; a habit—an addiction.
I doubt most people tell themselves they want to have a meth addiction when they decide to try it. It’ll only be a one-time thing, right? Or, that someone expects to be a porn addict the first time they watch a porn video. But sometimes all we need to do is take that first step in the wrong direction. One Hamartia—when we’re missing the mark—can have us fall off the ledge into a precipitous addiction.
What should we do if (or when) this happens? Reach out to Jesus. Let Him be the rope with which we climb back to solid ground. Allow others to wrap the rope around us and pull us up, so that we don’t fail to finish the climb from fatigue.
And what will this require?
With humility comes grace. Think about it. We can’t receive God’s grace if we don’t believe that we’re in need of it. If we can’t see a need for it, then we’re lying to ourselves.
Paul, considered himself the worst of all sinners…yet, we consider him a saint. Maybe that’s the reason we see him that way…
…humility allows us to accept grace, grant forgiveness and mercy
…humility allows us to speak in truth and love
…humility allows us to show our flaws
…humility allows us to the see others as more important than ourselves
…humility allows for true friendship
…humility allows us to beat addictions
…humility allows us to be adopted children of God.