As an external description, maturity is the process of reaching full natural growth or development, or something having reached the limit of its time. As an internal description, maturity is the capability of living fully life on life’s terms, emotionally and spiritually.
Concerning maturity as an internal experience and process, a person can reach full growth externally, and still not have matured internally. Even more, a person can be younger in years than others, and the younger person can be more mature because of emotional and spiritual development. Age is not the most accurate discriminating factor; internal development is the most accurate discriminating factor when we talk about maturation.
The fullest form of maturation is an older person who has life experience and internal growth that is integrated into their life’s experiences and present behavior. That person has the complete package, the scars of years of experience in living and the capacity to keep on generating love, in spite of the scars of living.
That person offers much fruit. They give “backwards” and “forwards.” They offer themselves to those who are headed their way on life’s path in the inevitable aging process. And they offer themselves to those who are near or beyond them along the path of living.
From everything I have witnessed, the internal maturation process starts with the experience of admitting neediness and surrendering that neediness to God, and others who have what we need internally.
These people have faced and felt something inescapable: we are not self-created. Instead, we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable characteristics. We are created to seek life, liberty, and the opportunity to develop into who we are created to become. We came into life as emotional and spiritual creatures in need of relationship with others and God to be able to live fully life on life’s terms.
This admission and surrender experience (a continuous process) opens the door to the internal maturation path. In the epistle of Galatians, Paul assumes that surrender has occurred and keeps occurring. He speaks of the benefits of being on the path of living fully, so we can experience who we are created to be, and do what we are created to do. He writes, “It is for freedom that Christ has liberated us” (Galatians 5:1). He then goes on to speak to the internal growth process and what we receive by giving ourselves over to a life led by the Spirit of God.
The fruit that we can develop through relationship with God in us is beyond rules, beyond being restrained, and thus cannot be stopped. The fruit, which develops from the inside out, is generative, keeps on giving, regardless of age.
Giving our hearts over to God in surrender to neediness, then, grows and refines the following fruit: “. . . the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5: 22). Our daily surrender, rather than marking us as weak or childish, sets us on the path of internal maturation and generative offerings. We live fully life on life’s terms.
God takes action for us; He opens us to vulnerability and courage in a world that would demand we close ourselves off to growth for survival or self-protection.
Love maintains interest and empathy towards others. Joy comes from having received in grace what one cannot earn, a gift of gratitude. Patience becomes the strength to carry the burden of hope. Kindness increases the capacity to maintain tenderness in a hard-hearted world. Goodness focuses on being of maximum service, a form of fulfillment. Faithfulness expresses trust that God is always about being true and good. Gentleness grows out of the security that God is healing, caring for and growing us. And self-control enables one to exercise restraint, a lack of reactivity, under pressure.
The internal maturation process takes surrender so far from the assumed definition of defeat that the two words actually have no similarity. Surrender is an offering, a giving back to God. A person grows to live fully life on life’s terms in a world that is craving the fruit of people who are in the internal maturation process.