I think we often have false concepts about growth and maturity. We think that growth will mean that we’ll be less emotionally upset by negative situations. The farther along the Christian path we are, the less negative emotional energy we’ll experience. We envision maturity to be a state of emotional calm and peace that can’t be easily disturbed. Additionally, the more we grow the less needy we imagine we’ll be. As we navigate life and acquire knowledge and wisdom (including familiarity with scripture) we think we’ll find ourselves in a place of answers rather than questions, and having answers means we won’t be needy. Being needy, after all, is quite distasteful. Most likely these ideas come from the influence of stoicism and probably other philosophies. The Christian idea of growth, however, is very different.
The difficulty in trying to define Christian growth is that these other ideas have a sliver of truth in them. Growth should mean that we become more emotionally stable. We shouldn’t be flying off the handle or given to roller coaster like emotional rides. One of the reasons people have unstable emotional lives is because they lack self-control and understanding. Growth will mean development in both of these areas. But in other ways, growth will actually evoke stronger emotions then one would have otherwise. When understanding is developed, one has the ability to see beyond the superficial, and that means true injustice will be more easily perceived which should elicit strong emotions. Understanding can enable us to have a better picture of the whys behind people’s actions, and if those actions stem from selfish motives we will naturally be more grieved or angry (or both). Growth wakes us up, both to more good than we could see before, and more evil than we could see before.
Likewise, growth and maturity are going to involve gaining experience which should help us navigate the vicissitudes of life with greater skill. But the secret here is that the skill acquired isn’t about how to handle things single-handedly, but how to remain in an interdependent relationship with both God and other believers. Christian growth and maturity means growth as a person, someone who is capable of relationship with others. God is a communion of love (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and humanity was created to join in that communitarian dance. We are, at the heart of our design, relational beings and we come into our fullness when we can relate well with other people. Christian maturity is relational maturity.
As we grow we roll with the punches better and are able to respond to negativity more beneficially and less vindictively, but it doesn’t mean we have fewer “punches” or disturbances. Our lessons become more profound, but not necessarily less frequent. Maturity means we’re more open, more teachable, more aware, more sensitive to real injustice and less sensitive to personal offense. In short, we’re better persons, more capable of communion, but more vulnerable to the grief that comes from those things that destroy relationships.