William Menninger, M.D. listed seven criteria of emotional maturity: 1) the ability to deal constructively with reality, 2) the capacity to adapt to change, 3) a relative freedom from symptoms that are produced by tensions and anxieties, 4) the capacity to find more satisfaction in giving than receiving, 5) the capacity to relate to other people with mutual satisfaction and helpfulness, 6) the capacity to sublimate – to direct one’s instinctive hostile energy into creative and constructive outlets, and 7) the capacity to love.
It’s important to note that maturity doesn’t necessarily mean we always do these things perfectly or even consistently – but that we have at least developed the above capacities or abilities.
Have you ever had someone say, “Oh, just grow up!”? I know I have; and usually I have deserved this reprimand. Often it’s been those closest to me (family and friends) who care enough to point out my childish ways.
St. Paul wrote: “When I became a man I put away childish things.” I don’t think he meant that he sold all his toys and bought bigger clothes. I believe he is addressing this issue of becoming emotionally mature. And this is no small issue. In many ways American society promotes childish and selfish behavior. How many popular movies, shows, and songs model vengeance, angry acting out, greed, betrayal, or a life of fear?
Maturity doesn’t mean we deny, avoid, or suppress our emotions. I believe it is important to maintain a healthy connection with our inner child. We are born with a natural love for life and the ability to be spontaneous, fun loving, and free. As we grow up, we must stay aware of our feelings and not lose the capacity to experience child-like faith and joy. Grow up, but don’t grow dull or devoid of joy.
I suggest you read Menninger’s criteria again, and ask yourself how you are doing on each of them. Are you at times still acting like a selfish child? With whom? Where? When? You may want to discuss your attitudinal challenges with a close friend or a professional therapist. Be diligent in your pursuit of godly maturity. It’s never too late to grow up!