By David Hegg
I like to watch sporting events. While soccer is my favorite, I’ll watch just about anything, especially when my kids are home.
Lately, it’s been football and besides the score and the action, I’ve come to understand the reason teams with veteran players usually come out on top. That is not to diminish the contribution at all. Youth will be served, as the saying goes. But even the rookies, and those in their first few years, understand how important it is to have, and to learn from, those who have been playing the game a long time.
Why is this? I think it is because experience builds maturity, and maturity comes to focus on the right priorities and actions, whether it is in football, or the great game of life. Having achieved a certain amount of years myself, I offer to you some things that are marks of maturity simply because they are so hard to do unless you stop caring so much about self and determine to do what is best and right.
First on the list is self-awareness. Immaturity casts its eyes outward almost all the time, critiquing others but hardly ever self. Immaturity is given to rationalization rather than confession simply because the immature are still fighting for acceptance, status and applause.
But maturity demonstrates itself in one of the hardest, yet most needed character traits. That is the willingness to acknowledge personal deficiencies, confess them openly, apologize for them sincerely, and seek forgiveness from others while demanding change and consistency in righteousness from yourself. It takes maturity to do the hard things well, in life just as in football.
A second mark of maturity is found on the other side of the confession coin. It’s forgiveness. Immaturity struggles to forgive. It wants its pound of flesh, and carefully stores up bitterness masquerading as hurt feelings. Bitterness is the residue of wrongs suffered that allows us to feel good about acting badly.
Forgiveness, rightly understood and offered, refuses to allow bitterness to remain. While the pain may remain, and trust be built up slowly, true forgiveness means no longer holding the wrong confessed against the forgiven person. This is a sign of maturity because it is so hard to do. The ability to truly forgive is forged over time as we experience true forgiveness ourselves. Being forgiven breeds a forgiving heart.
A third mark of maturity is accepting responsibility of your own well-being, and no longer believing it is the responsibility of the world around you to make you feel good at every turn. Immaturity believes the world exists for them. It places unreasonable expectations on those in their lives, critiques the way they are treated, and stores up bitterness as evidence that they’ve been victimized by mean haters and, therefore, are not responsible for their wayward actions and self-inflicted failures.
Maturity is the realization that we exist for the world, for those around us, and for the God who made us. Maturity takes responsibility to build inner strength, a positive reliance on personal character and virtue, and a firm set of ethical convictions that steer the course of action regardless of the circumstances around them.
As we look ahead to the New Year, and the months of challenge and opportunity it brings, can we agree to pursue a greater level of maturity in our lives? Can we trade in cynicism for compassion, shouting for listening, and bitterness for patience and forgiveness? And can we muster up the courage to take personal inventory of ourselves each day, being more aware of our own deficiencies and demanding better of ourselves.?
Of course, if you read this column regularly you know where I’m heading. The path of my life always leads me back to the personal God of the Bible who is really the only one who can truly forgive our trespasses. I happen to know this personally, more this year than before.
So, as we head to a New Year, with all the challenges and opportunities it will lay out before us, let’s agree to pursue greater levels of maturity, and greater consistency in living out the lessons we’ve learned, the character we’ve built, and the ethical convictions we share.
After all, we’re in this together. Let’s make it a great New Year!
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident.“Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.