The Marker of Our Maturity

What does “maturity” mean to you—how do you define it? I asked a group of young adults this question, and here’s my summary of their responses…

  • Steadfast, level-headed, and stable.
  • Learning from your own (and others’) experiences, leading to action and then wisdom.
  • An ability to empathize with others.
  • We expect it to be associated with age, but it isn’t always.

These are, of course, insightful and conventional responses. But no one in our group mentioned the standard of maturity put forth by Teresa of Avila, because (like many of her observations) it’s simultaneously upending and deeply true:

“When one reaches the highest degree of human maturity, one has only one question left: ‘How can I be helpful?’”

This definition of maturity struck me as true the moment I heard it, but then I invited these young people to marinate with me about why it is true. So, using this “how can I be helpful” lens, our group watched a riveting 60 Minutes report called “The MASS Model of Community-Focused Architecture.” It’s the story of a group of award-winning young architects who set out to create a new model of architecture—not a design style, but a way of thinking about the spaces we create that emphasizes “how can buildings be helpful to people?”

This nonprofit firm, based in Boston, is called MASS—short for Model of Architecture Serving Society. Its young, Harvard-educated leaders were inspired by the work of Dr. Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners In Health and an iconic advocate for public health innovations among disadvantage populations. Farmer gave the determined entrepreneurs with MASS three standards for architecture that are fundamentally helpful to people: 1) The buildings must be beautiful. 2) The buildings must maximize airflow for promoting health. 3) The building projects must employ local people using local resources, raising the waterline for economic opportunity.

I asked our group to use Teresa of Avila’s definition of maturity to analyze the work of MASS in Rwanda and other disadvantaged areas of the world—as a kind of “proof of concept.” So, if we assume helpfulness is the standard for maturity, what support do we see in this story? Watch the piece yourself, then compare your observations to our group’s:

  • MASS’s principles of architecture led to “layered” helpfulness. They looked at a wide array of human need—for beauty, health, and economic vitality—and created a way of designing and constructing buildings that produced “wholistic helpfulness.”
  • This ethic of helpfulness operated like a magnet for many others who are drawn to spreading dignity and beauty and life in the world.
  • The functional purpose behind designing beauty into their projects is that beauty communicates “You matter” to those who benefit from the building. Beauty heals. Real helpfulness heals.
  • Because we are created in the image of God, we have an embedded desire to find meaning in life by helping others. It’s the Spirit of Jesus in us that gravitates to helpfulness. Our significance in life is tied to the way we contribute to the flourishing of others.
  • Maturity is communicated through presence, and we’re always drawn to it or changed by it.

Finally, our group tested Teresa of Avila’s definition of maturity against the modeling and teaching of Jesus. If we assume, in every encounter, Jesus is trying to help the person He’s engaging to mature, what is He doing to move that person toward maturity? We used Luke 24—an account of how Jesus related to His friends after His resurrection. This passage includes the discovery of the empty tomb, the encounter with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and His appearance to the rest of the disciples in a locked room in Jerusalem. We pursued two questions: 1) How is Jesus, specifically, being helpful to His friends? 2) What is Jesus doing to help people mature, and in what ways might this lead to greater maturity? Here’s a summary of their insights and discoveries…

  • Jesus is always asking questions—of course, He already knows the answers, but He’s asking because He wants His friends to discover the answers for themselves. When they have the responsibility to discover truth, they grow and mature. This is dignity-giving, and central to helpfulness.
  • Jesus helped His friends to understand the whole story of God’s redemptive intentions with his beloved children—a narrative that is fluid is eye-opening, and leads to freedom.
  • With the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, He concealed Himself out of humility—rather than overwhelming them with His miraculous presence, He made sure they were free to learn and grow and see the truth.
  • There is a powerful thread embedded in the post-resurrection account of Jesus—He elevates and spotlights women (who were considered beneath dignity in their culture) as the most trustworthy witnesses. He upends the patterns of trustworthiness in the culture, and offers foundational respect to those who’d been systematically disrespected.
  • When moments of truth surface, maturity depends on action. Movement is required for learning to translate into maturity. Jesus helps this process by inviting active responses, not passive storehousing of knowledge.

I think there’s much in this pondering process about maturity that can challenge, invite, and infuse our own leadership with deeper levels of impact. I invite you to read over these responses again, notice what you notice about your own reactions to them, then find a way to act on what surfaces for you…

Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith—he created the new small-group curriculum Following JesusHis new book isThe Suicide Solution. He’s general editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible, and author of 40 books, includingThe Jesus-Centered Life and the devotional Jesus-Centered Daily. He hosts the podcast Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus https://soundcloud.com/pay-attention-to-jesus


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