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Maturity: Respect, Responsibility, Restraint

Maturity. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language has a few definitions: “Having reached full natural growth” and “Having reached a desired state or final condition; ripe,” and “Having or showing characteristics, such as patience and prudence, which are considered typical of well-balanced adulthood.” So it seems like there are some aspects of maturity that happen whether we want them to or not. Our bodies change as we mature into sexuality. But when you look around, there are lots of people being sexually active but acting very immature in other parts of their relationships. So maturity can’t just be our bodies changing. We are much more than our physical bodies – our mental, emotional, spiritual and social bodies all need maturing as well. That’s the third definition – developing those characteristics that lead to a well-balanced adulthood. A traditional sailboat is designed to be very difficult to tip over in severe wind and waves. But did you know that they are also designed to right themselves if they do get turned over? A well-balanced person – a person who is mature through many aspects of their life – has, as a part of them, like the sailboat, the ability to be pushed far without breaking as well as the ability to get up after being knocked down. Just as the sailboat was designed, so must we design our maturity.

Wait, wait, wait – we design our own maturity?? How does that happen? It starts when we recognize that maturing is not something that is happening to us, maturity is something we are doing. Until we recognize this, it is easy to play Peter Pan, staying in Never Never Land, never growing up, never having meaningful relationships, never facing our fears, never getting a job, never moving out of our parents’ house, never triumphing over tragedy. What once looked fun now sounds pretty terrible. So how do I design my maturity? By practicing The Three R’s: Responsibility, Respect and Restraint. What are those??

Responsibility – what I take on. What burdens I am going to carry. Some burdens I can avoid carrying, but I will inevitably carry another burden: I can avoid the burdens of multiple heart breaks, stds, and teen parenting if I choose to take on the burden of sexual integrity. If I am responsible for my pup, it is up to me to make sure he is fed and watered and played with every day, to take care of him if he gets hurt. Sometimes it seems like we can avoid taking on responsibilities, because it seems easier or more fun at the time to do something else. But if I never play with my pup, but only kick him away when he wants to play with me – it won’t be long before that pup runs away from me when I want to go play with him. When we take on responsibility for our maturity, we have already begun to mature!

Respect – what I put out. What I put out into the world. If I come home from a bad day at school, slam the front door, throw my backpack on the floor, scream at my little brother and kick him off the Xbox, he storms off, tells mom and I end up getting grounded. I have not acted respectfully towards anything – the house we live in, my school books, my relationship with my little brother, were all damaged because I chose to disrespect them – see, respect isn’t something that’s earned (contrary to popular belief), respect is something that is given. If I am showing respect to the house I live in, I am not slamming doors or punching holes in the walls, regardless of how mad I might get. If I am showing respect to my school books, I am not going to throw them on the ground so they’re all falling apart. If I am showing respect to my little brother, I am not going to scream at him – especially if he had nothing to do with the things I’m upset about. Respect is treating things (people, possessions, relationships) with the value I know they have, regardless of how distasteful or upsetting I might find them at the moment.

A final note: many people seem to be preoccupied with getting respect. I have learned a simple yet profound lesson: “If you want to be respected, do respectable deeds.”

Restraint – what I keep in. The potential responses I choose not to use. Until I begin to act in a situation, there is only potential. Like pausing a movie. It’s actually a technique used in film & stage – pause for suspense – there is nothing happening at that exact moment within the scene, but all the characters and the audience know that something has to happen – the pause gives us the opportunity to play out in our minds all kinds of potential responses that might happen. Most of those potential responses are restrained. Restraint is controlling what portions of my internal self are manifested in the outside world. In the example above, where I was talking about respect regarding my little brother, if I had restrained myself, I would not have slammed the door, thrown my books and screamed at him, Because I didn’t do any of those things, he had no reason to go tell mom, and I wouldn’t have gotten grounded. Maybe we could have played Xbox together & had a good interaction that countered the bad day I had a school…

See, all three of these – The Three R’s of Maturity – Responsibility, Respect, and Restraint – are like the notes of the song “maturity” – by practicing the notes, when it comes to concert time, the song sounds good!

As we develop the three R’s of maturity in the various aspects of our lives, we begin to get a fourth R, taken from the dictionary’s second definition: “Ripe” meaning we are ready and capable of having healthy relationships!

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