Have you felt like there were some situations or places where you really felt like you were growing? Strong, healthy, empowered?
And then maybe you also find yourself in other situations or places, but you don’t feel like those descriptions are true. Maybe there are places or situations where you find yourself weak, anxious, powerless, angry, or maybe even just young and immature.
I believe Maturity is Contextual.
What does that mean? Well it means there are some places you might actually function pretty maturely and there are others in which we find ourselves giving expression to various dysfunctions and immature behavior that maybe we had forgotten existed or that we’re not aware of yet.
I think a majority of folks have a paradigm of maturity that is linear – you grow or mature and it’s kind of like a static thing that you take with you wherever you go. You don’t regress…you keep climbing the mountain of adulthood. It’s kind of linear in that it’s like a straight line on a graph. Maturity = growth and transformation over time.
I think there’s a kernel of truth there. But we also in some ways are different people in different places. Each context or situation is a different emotional system. They are made up by the unique collection of people and players. What’s important for this discussion is that each setting we might find ourselves in, the pressures upon us and the challenges to our identity and maturity vary greatly because dynamics change with different people. So authority relationships, family, gender, ethnicity and race, and host of other factors shape our experience of our contexts. And you know what – different situations often tap into different things. Sometimes we don’t have to grow up in some places because people don’t make us. However we can’t get away with those same things in a different context because the expectations are different.
This is part of why even grown men and women can feel and act like children or adolescents when they return to their parent’s home. Or maybe it’s why even very mature and experienced leaders can’t speak up in the face of perceived authority. Whatever it is – we don’t act the same across the board. Therefore we develop differently in differently places, because those places call us to grow up in different ways (except for those places which work to not let us grow up at all in the first place).
I worked with short-term international mission teams for about five years so I got to work with students and staff of my organization before, during, and after significant and often intense cross-cultural experiences in various places around the world. It wasn’t uncommon during a debrief or conflict mediation session to hear someone express in frustration, “That wasn’t me. I don’t know what happened. That wasn’t really me.”
Now we all know that feeling and understand what’s being communicated there. But I always tried to ask the question, “Well, who was it then?”
Sometimes we regress, a situation or team or relationship or dynamic draws out the worst in us. There’s often flat out sin involved too as a result of immature reactivity. Usually there’s also an exposure of areas that are immature – that haven’t grown up yet. And it’s hard to integrate those immature moments, those childlike moments with those experiences in which we feel like we’re on top of our game and where we feel good about ourselves and what we want people to see and experience from us.
Maturity is contextual in that it is through unique contexts and situations in which we are formed and shaped and challenged and exposed. Yet maturity is not purely contextual as we seek to integrate our sense of self, allowing us to become someone who is consistent, who embodies integrity and wholeness, and who can embrace the challenge to grow up as a result of whatever challenge that comes. I’m speaking here more on a developmental level rather than on the theological/sanctification level.
Who we are is not “somewhere in between” our best environments and our worst. Who we are is both. Our underlying character gaps and our immaturity or vulnerable to sin areas are exposed more in certain settings – and they should drive us towards grace and humility and learning.
But we should be mindful that in our best environments – we might have a false sense of confidence about just how far we’ve come. I’m not talking about pride per se. I’m talking about a monstrous blind spot that comes from failing to recognize that we function really well in some contexts and situations because our weaknesses are not tested in those moments or places as they are others. This is why people in power can go a long way and maybe never really recognize how many glaring holes in their character are really there.
So as you think about your own growth and development – recognize that it’s fluid, it’s environmentally influenced, and it’s a sign of maturity to do the work of integrating your self as different contexts experience you differently. That’s where you really experience grace and exhibit authentic humility as a person and leader.
And remember this warning – you might not be mature in the setting in which you function most. You might simply be lucky – lucky that you’re set up in a situation in which your true character just isn’t tested or challenged or exposed. We have seasons like that. But those seasons come to an end sooner or later and we’ll have a test of our character and convictions. Our maturity then may be exposed both by the situation…and then how we respond after we find ourselves in the light in new ways.