How can young people move toward maturity? How can adolescents grow into young adults? How can college students move through the college years with increasing integrity, character, maturity, skill, and productivity?
Here are six basic steps to help the saplings of the next generation add rings as they reach for the light.
1. Wake Up: Desire
The first step toward maturity is wanting it. This virtue — basic desire — sits at the core of who we are and what we become.
Like children, all young adults grow whether they want to or not. They gain life experience; they acquire relationships; they develop an educational portfolio. But there’s a difference between haphazardly developing and intentionally maturing. Maturity, at its most granular levels, requires desire. When a young man or woman wakes up to his or her own human potential, to a sense of God-given responsibility, to the healthy weight of stewardship invested in every son of Adam and daughter of Eve, that young man or woman has awakened at the crossroads where the path to maturity begins.
2. Sign Up: Commitment
But desire alone is not enough. Without a concrete set of roles and commitments, even a healthy desire for maturity can become just a compost pile of good intentions. There’s a reason why would-be soldiers enlist, and would-be graduates enroll, and would-be couples get engaged. Commitment — holding specific roles and responsibilities — strengthens us by making us shoulder the real weights of life.
When I was an 18-year-old sophomore, I worked as the intramural sports coordinator at my Christian college. I organized leagues, ran sign-ups, scheduled games, refereed every sport, and problem-solved all over the place. I’d held a paper route as a young teenager and mowed lawns in high school, but this was my first experience dealing with hundreds of people and dozens of interpersonal and logistical challenges. I was often uncomfortable, and as a gatekeeper and referee, often criticized. But I started learning a different level of responsibility, and I started growing up.
We mature when we hold concrete roles and responsibilities, because we’re yoked to commitments that require us to be faithful even (especially) when the task gets heavy and the going gets tough.
3. Show Up: Faithfulness
Signing up is one thing. Showing up is another. There are too many young people who want to move up but don’t want to show up. They want the platform without the persistence. They want favor without faithfulness. But the main part of maturity (and influence) is simply showing up when we said we would and doing what we know we should. The majority of maturity is faithfulness.
You can’t lead if you’re not around. You can’t serve if you don’t come. You can’t help if you’re not here. So if you want to mature, make wise commitments, and then follow through on those commitments. Sign up, then show up.
4. Shut Up: Humility
It’s vital to wake up, sign up, and show up. But you also have to learn to shut up. As we move through adolescence into young adulthood, we’re sometimes tempted to think and act like we know far more than we do. Why? We’re becoming conscious of the world and ourselves, we’re putting some ideological pieces together for the first time, and we’re beautifully and naïvely simplistic about life. So we start speaking up and speaking out.
But open mouths often marry closed minds and have terrible children together. Our opinion-sharing can easily outrace our lesson-learning, and we can become walking illustrations of Proverbs 18:2 — “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”
Rather than sharing humbly while seeking to learn, we often speak arrogantly while seeking to lecture, long before our time has come. But those who are truly maturing know that maturity takes time, so maturity also knows how to shut up and learn in sincere humility. “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance” (Proverbs 1:5).
5. Step Up: Courage
Closing our mouths and opening our ears is a vital discipline to develop. But we should do so out of humility rather than fear, patience rather than indifference.
It’s not wrong to want, or have, influence. It’s not wrong to step up and speak up — to be a courageous servant leader for the good of others. In fact, it’s one of the most important responsibilities every human being bears. Even when we’re young, we have an obligation to step up and exert godly influence in any number of situations: leading a group, voicing the truth, defending the oppressed, standing for what’s right, contributing with our gifts.
Not only can we add value to any situation by stepping up, but we also grow. Leading others teaches you how to lead. Teaching something is the best way to learn. Using your gifts is the best way to hone them.
So if you want to mature, you must also learn to step up and speak up and lead out in appropriate ways in appropriate settings for appropriate purposes. No one matures much without exercising a regular dose of courage.
6. Get Up: Resilience
“Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth,” says the philosopher-boxer Michael Gerard Tyson. If you want to grow, you’ll have to face the challenges that growth entails. Maturing and marathoning have this in common: It’s going to be a process, it’s going to be hard, and it’s going to hurt. You’ll have to hit walls and push through them. You’ll have to get knocked down and get back up. And if you never get knocked down — if you never fail, or suffer, or wilt under the pressure, then you’re probably not trying anything that requires the stoutest forms of maturity.
The only way to learn how to get back up is to get knocked down, just like the only way to learn how to climb out of a pit is to tumble into one. There’s no such thing as maturity without resilience, so there’s no way to become mature without developing some real-time resilience along the way.
The process of growing into the people God’s designed us to be is invigorating, but it’s also challenging. We often find ourselves aiming for a charcoal outline of our future selves that can seem distant and underdeveloped.
But while maturity isn’t simple, it’s also not complicated. Basic maturity follows this basic path: desire, commitment, faithfulness, humility, courage, and resilience. So if you want to grow up, then start by waking up, signing up, showing up, shutting up, stepping up, and then getting up when you trip or tumble or get knocked down.
The church and the world are starving for mature Christians. So reach for the light, grow strong, and stand tall.
“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).