When Are You Actually an Adult?

What makes one an adult, really? Is it defined by a birthday or a paycheck? By a relationship status or a mortgage? Is there more to adulthood than bills and responsibilities? In a culture that celebrates extended adolescence (think Old School, The Hangover and Hall Pass) perhaps it’s time to be reminded of what’s good about growing up. Here are five ways to embrace adulthood:

You Let Your Needs Trump Your Wants.

All children share the same malady: an inability to separate needs from wants. When we confuse our wants and needs, we choose short-term gratification over long-term satisfaction. Being an adult means knowing the difference between wants and needs. One of my twentysomething friends told me, “I knew I was an adult when I could put myself to bed because I had a job to do the next day.”

You Embrace Your Limits.

One of the most courageous things we can do as mature adults is embrace our own limits. It is easy to confuse independence with pride. Pride says, “I have no limits.” Pride allows us to believe we can treat our bodies with impunity, watch or listen to anything we want, and ignore any limitations that feel “childish.” It takes courage and maturity to know our own weaknesses, and to create boundaries for those weaknesses.

The apostle Paul talks about this in Romans 14 when he explains that we must regard one another with kindness and without judgment for the decisions we make that keep us from stumbling in our faith.

But we can apply this reasoning to our own faith as well. What causes you to turn away from the fruit of peace and joy? For me, this means avoiding all movies and shows with violent crime scenes. My imagination is too active and there’s a darkness I feel after I’ve seen something like that. This is a limitation I’ve put on myself that doesn’t feel constricting; it feels like a kindness to my own soul. When we begin to understand ourselves as limited individuals, we treat our own bodies and souls with respect and make decisions based on that respect.

You Let Your Parents Be Human.

One of my bosses once told me, “if you can forgive your parents by the time you are 30, you are an emotionally healthy person.” Maturity looks like having compassion for the humanity of our parents, and other “grown ups.” It means knowing that those we’ve looked up to or answered to in life have their own shortcomings and their own wounds. We forgive them for the ways they’ve failed us as kids and we feel compassion for the ways that they struggle.

When we release our grip of unforgiveness on those who have failed us, we are free to let God meet those needs in new and healthy ways—through our relationship with Him, through friendships and through our own communities of faith. The chains of family issues do more than constrict our freedom—they also keep us kids. Do whatever it takes to heal from any family wounds. Seek wise counsel, tell your story, pursue forgiveness. That’s maturity.

You Know You Haven’t Arrived.

A great sign of maturity is our ability to realize that we still have room to grow. 1 Corinthians 13 talks about talking, reasoning and thinking like a child, and goes on to say, “now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” Maturity is recognizing that we do not know everything and will not know everything this side of heaven. Maturity is receiving grace for ourselves in our own limitations and weaknesses. We begin to ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen us to pursue the needs of our souls rather than the in-the-moment wants.

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This is the beauty of adulthood found in our loving and growing relationship with ourselves. It’s a loving and growing relationship with our God who encourages us to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” We do not want to dawdle at the starting line when God has called us to so much more. This race begins in our daily decisions to throw off our childish ways and pursue the full, free life of maturity in Him. We lean into the growth He calls us to in our everyday actions, knowing that these choices are growing us into a more full and free version of ourselves.

You’ve Earned the Right to Make Your Own Decisions.

With maturity comes responsibility. When you take on that responsibility, be it finding that job or paying your own cell phone bill or moving out of your parent’s house, you’ve earned the right to make your own choices.

I know a newly married couple who are both leaving their jobs to travel cross-country for five weeks. They spend the first two years of their marriage saving for this moment. They made daily choices that freed them up to live out this adventure. They put limits on their lives for long-term gain. That’s maturity and it doesn’t lead to a boring life—it leads to a great adventure.

Adulthood can be scary, but you know what’s even more frightening? The life you’ll miss when you don’t take steps toward maturity. It might be hard, but it’s also so good.

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