I turned 34 in January. For a few months now, I’ve been joking with a friend that forty is starting to feel really close. I’m loving my thirties, but forty seems, not old, but maybe like I’m not wise enough to be approaching it. I thought I might be nearing middle-age since I’m turning 35 next year and I still part my hair on the side (I don’t have TikTok but I know that GenZ says that’s a “no” now). Then I did some googling and realized that no one else thinks that middle-age starts until 40 or 45. I have years to go…even though forty still seems close.
I want to own my age whether I’m 34 or 45. I want to mature and not just get old. I’ve never been one to crack jokes about being eternally 29 because I want to live these years and grow and mature and enjoy being that person versus the one I was at 29. (I’m hugging her in my mind as I think of her.) I remember being barely a teenager and there was an older teen, honestly she was probably in college, that I admired. She dressed well, seems poised; in other words, she was all the things I was not at 13. In a tiny way, it was a vision of hope for the future adult I might be.
When I was in my 20s, I remember multiple occasions when I looked around for the adult in charge, and realized that I was actually that person. It took me by surprise then but now I need to be prepared for that. I need to invest time and energy into wisdom and maturity so that I have what the people around me need, so that I am becoming who God is making me. To stay immature is to be selfish, unwilling to be uncomfortable and inconvenienced for the good of others. This shortcut to nowhere cheats myself too.
Ephesians 4 talks extensively about our maturing in Christ. “growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. Then we will no longer be little children.” “To take off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires, to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth.” Paul goes on to discuss taking off habits and actions that do not reflect God. But he doesn’t mean a taking off that creates a vacuum or leaves nakedness. We are to fill that space with good things. Tell the truth because we belong to each other. Work with our hands so that we can share when others are needy. Feel anger without letting it drive sinful behavior. Build up others with our words. G.K. Chesterton continues to broaden my imagination with a quote. He said, “The more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.” Don’t stay forever immature as believers; stretch, grow, participate in the work the Spirit is doing. Be filled to overflowing with good things.
God’s intent is for His people to grow up together: to reflect Christ more and more as we learn who He is and how He acts in the world. That will not happen by accident. We certainly do not do that work; without the power of the Spirit it would be impossible. But we do participate in what He is doing within us. We can resist or we can put our hands to the plow. It might be the uncomfortable work of spiritual disciplines. They are awkward to us as all new habits are; God does not disrobe us of our humanity in our belief. Instead our humanity is enhanced, remade into what it was originally intended to be. We feel the resistance of learning new ways to be human and we become stronger.
We feast upon God and who He is and what He offers. We fast from all the disordered ways that we would meet our own desires. We learn to live within the bounds of our humanity, which means we need rest and food and quiet, instead of straining to live without limits as only God can. We learn how to see others from God’s viewpoint, in relation to Him instead of only ourselves. It’s slow and often tedious work. We fail. We get up the next day and God’s mercies are new.
Growth in maturity happens in this daily work. There is the communal, true-to-all-believers work that we just mentioned and there is also the unique-to-me process that is happening. I find myself in a body with a personality that no one else has. I’m uniquely situated in history and God’s story, offering gifts imparted by God back to Him. If I don’t see that, I won’t meet Him here. I’ll think it’s enough to copy another person, to cookie-cutter manufacture a persona from some other gifted, lovely soul. But God has not asked me to be a copy of another person; He has made me an image of Himself. My piece is needed in the body of Christ, just as I need my pinkie and my elbow and my kidney. This means I’m taking Greek this year. I’ve pronounced this the year of Greek. You probably are not taking Greek, but God is asking you to meet Him in your own life.
The universal and the unique both lead to our maturity. Our 80-year-old persons we hope to be are being forged today by how we are living. I’m learning to slow down and see how that person is being made. I want to know if the direction I am headed looks anything like Jesus.