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 have 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, is not 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 is 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 is 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 one from suffering the same fate when the actions taken were unwise. Other times, it is necessary to make decisions based on what one believes right, even when one will need to likely endure an unpleasant resolution.
Such decisions have typically come when I could not reconcile my understanding of scripture with what I had seen others do when in a similar predicament; though personally advantageous if I had followed the crowd, I had to take Robert Frost’s advice and “take the road less traveled.” All that being said, I believe that I have grown in maturity these past ten years. Looking back to when I was a young twenty year-old, I was not nearly as mature as I thought. Suffice it to say, if I make it another ten years, I would not be surprised if I once again have a different perspective on my level of maturity 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 would 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 would be “exercise humility.”
Now that I have given you 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 have garnered during my twenties. Many of you 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 was in actuality through exaggeration.
There have been many times in the past ten years where I did not regret the action 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 are going to think based on the information they have available to them with which to deduce their intentions. And, 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 is a two-fold beauty in putting yourself out into open-view. First, it allows people to better understand what you are about as a person, and where your life’s journey may currently be situated. Second, it brings out your blemishes; providing others the opportunity to hold you 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 in the process. Personally, I know I can create rationalizations that act as justification 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 is 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. However, the things I tend to hide are those things that leave me most vulnerable, and which I am most ashamed.
I am thankful that Jesus didn’t allow the ill-conceived perceptions of his fellow Jews to dissuade him from doing what was necessary to secure 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 could not please everyone, how can we?
We can’t. All we can do is strive to do what we believe to be right and act for what we believe to be good.
The Contradictory Revelation: Embracing Conflict Brings Peace
It is better to give open rebuke than hidden love (NIV). Proverbs 27:5
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 is no risk as long as I do not pay attention to such things.”
As a Christian, it is essential to speak Truth into the lives of others. If someone is living with lies, what is most likely to occur? Conflict. Christians should be gracious and loving to non-Christians, lovingly strategic in how they speak; cunning as a serpent, for we are 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 and 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 Christians 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 don’t confront our fellow Christians because we are more worried more about our relationship with them in this life, and not enough about their relationship with God in this life and the one following.
I have come to the conclusion, that it will likely be necessary for me to risk my relationship with someone out of 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 relational sacrifice for that person’s benefit.
Paul tells us that if I search for the Truth, it will lead me to Christ. I believe this. The life of Christ shows me how I am SUPPOSED to live—not that I succeed in following Jesus’ example in any significant capacity. And as best as I can determine, Christ was compassionate to those who needed compassion…and confrontational with those that needed to be confronted. And while it may not seem as though it will bring peace…I believe that God is true in making all things ultimately bring Him glory. We just may not be able to see it in our limited perspective— just a drop of (hopefully “salt”) water in His big ocean.
My small group is currently reading Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. We are currently on a chapter titled “Grow Into An Emotionally Mature Adult.” I have 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? You 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 are 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 they will somehow go away. They don’t. And we all learn, sooner or later, that you 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 have 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 in playing in the sand box my Heavenly Father has provided. What father wouldn’t want to see his child enjoy the gifts 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 relationship with others?
With age, I have become more of a reader. There comes pleasure in learning when someone is not telling you what you need to learn. When reading books on a common subject, the material in each is nearly identical. It is 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 is a often a point of definitiveness to the subject’s substance. Even how I interpret something is not necessarily original to me, but influenced by my prior experiences and current beliefs. Do you think this note would occasionally refer to scripture if I was not a Christian? Possibly, though less likely.
The problem I have 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 are 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 am placing a greater importance on who I see myself as, versus what I see in others. Also, I am creating an idol out of my identity. In a way, I am trying to take on a role that is not 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 have not been exposed to this fallen world nearly as long, and have an innocence which adults lose as they experience more. A child’s identity is not nearly as rigid as an adult’s, because it has not 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 is shameful to me that I even have such tendencies. In trying to find ways to separate myself as a step above from others, I am taking away from that which makes healthy community possible: Commonalities. As a Christian, I am 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 Is Best To Make Assessments of Others with My Own Lens
There was a sermon that I heard at Victory World Church years ago on the Lord’s Prayer. Some of its points resonated with me, and have stayed with me since. The sermon emphasized that it is 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 represented 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 had wronged us directly.
We are not helping our friends by taking offense. We are encouraging them to be unforgiving, as we are unforgiving. This doesn’t mean that we approve the sinful offense, or even forget that it happened. But we seek that they work to bring peace in their hearts to forgive the person.
Again, this comes back to possessing humility and realizing that we have 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 find some humility from my hypocrisy.
This leads me to what I consider a heavily practiced tradition in Southern Culture: Social Group Think. Every time I have entered into a new social arena while living in GA, I have encountered the same challenge. From conversations with others, I have learned that almost everyone encounters it too. Groups, while on the exterior friendly (remember that whole ignoring conflict thing), are not truly inviting.
If someone within the group has not brought the person into the group (a.k.a, someone shows up not knowing anyone), it can be difficult to be accepted. If a few people in the group are not ‘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 never even had a conversation with the new person, have an opinion on them based on conversations with their friends. Obviously, if you are someone that everyone likes right away, this is advantageous for you. However, if you’re someone that is willing to embrace the conflict in your life…and subsequently can leave a poor first impression to those who ignore conflict, this could keep you excluded for quite some time. I can think of a few people that, if they had not started vouching for me, I would likely still be trying to find a niche within a social group.
And for me, some of my closest friends have been people that were not left with a positive first impression. While I have made more efforts to address this tendency, it still seems to be my modus operandi. Therefore, I would 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 would be even MORE hypocritical for me to not be open to new people that are trying to find their niche in a social setting. This is not to say that everyone will become my friend. That is not realistic, nor 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 (NAB).~ 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 (NIV). ~ Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses (NIV). ~ Proverbs 27:6
A righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray (NIV). ~ Proverbs 12:26
This weekend I will 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 have never met most of these people, but decided that it would be prudent to do so, because these reunions may not continue whenever Grandma Daisy goes to be with the Lord.
Truly, I have considered my friends to be synonymous with extended family throughout my life. As I have said numerous times in the past, friends are the family we choose. And, technically, I believe we are all descendants from Adam and Eve, so we are 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 your 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” loosely.
I wish there was a one word descriptor specifically designated in the English language for those friendly acquaintances we have. One that didn’t make someone feel unloved and insignificant if someone used it. I think that is why we use the word “friend” so freely. We are attempting to be civil and nice. The only problem with such practice, is that it slights the investment of those people that I would 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 you, want to know you continually better, and love you like family. These people are the ones that would possibly take a bullet for you. “Biblical” friends don’t run away from you when everyone else does. They make sacrifices on your behalf when no one else will. Such friends are LOYAL.
“Biblical” friends also realize the importance of speaking honestly to you, even when your response to it could be undesirable—because they love too much to lie. They keep you accountable to yourself, and prevent you from getting in your own way.
When you are discouraged in doing what is right, “biblical” friends are there for encouragement. They are part of your 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 you into poor situations? Or, the person who likes being around you because all the physically attractive people seem to flock to you…and they would like to be with one of those people? Or, the person that you always see at parties and social events, but never will make time to spend time with you in a smaller setting and really get to know you. Or, the person that is always asking you for help, but when you need help…they’re busy?
That is 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 you believe the number of “true friends” is the same number of people you have as “Facebook friends,” then I have to presume that you have quite a few less 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
The better my relationship with the Lord, the better my relationships are with other people in general. I have learned that it is important for me to be consistent in reading the Bible. When I fail to read the Word regularly, I fall into bad habits. I begin to take for granted the grace Jesus has secured for me. Like that distant relative 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, does not stay with me. I must meditate on it.
It is key for me to be volitional in all aspects of my relationship with God, but especially with reading the Word. It is the Word that God often uses to reveal aspects of Himself with us. If I do not keep with my bible reading, 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 slowly creep into my life and become idols taking me away from a healthy relationship with God. I have trouble even fathoming losing the opportunity for eternal relationship with God because I was more consumed by lesser things during my stay in this life…how foolish does this sound? BUT, how many of us place ourselves at risk for 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 (ESV).” ~ Luke 12:34
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (ESV).” ~ Matthew 6:21
It is important enough to be said 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 is not 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 you err, he utilizes that sin more effectively into his deceptions. You can hear the words in your head telling you it’s okay to eat that pint of ice cream…you didn’t have a soda all day. Or, that while you promised to get the proposal to your boss on Tuesday, it doesn’t need to get done until Thursday…so why not take it easy on yourself? It is my thought that the devil exaggerates the pleasure such sins give you…giving you 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 take it the first time. Or that someone expects to be a porn addict the first time they watch a porn video. But just that first step in the wrong direction; Hamartia—or missing the mark—can have you fall off the ledge.
What to do when that happens? Grab onto Jesus. Let him be the rope you climb back to solid ground. Allow others to pull you up with the rope, so that you do not become too fatigued to finish the climb.
And what will this require?
With humility comes grace. Think about it. We cannot receive God’s grace if we do not believe we are in need of it. If we cannot see a need for it, then we are lying to ourselves.
Paul, considered himself the worst of all sinners…yet, we consider him a saint. Maybe that is 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.