Today we are in week seven of our series “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.” This morning, we’re talking about “Growing into An Emotionally Mature Adult.” Christ calls us to have a spirituality that is not disconnected, but a spirituality that is truly connected where our love for God and our love for people are inseparable. They’re just so intimately connected that they can’t be cut in half. It is very easy and possible to have a disconnected spiritual life, where we are into God, but we are not really very good at loving people. If you look at the Pathways to Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, there can be no other Pathways without this one! Growing into an emotionally mature adult is the link between an unhealthy spirituality and a healthy spirituality. It’s the key link between a spirituality that is marked by pretence and hypocrisy and a spirituality that’s marked by genuineness and brokenness. This pathway forces us to work it out when nobody’s looking. This is putting into practice what we know to be true.
It’s difficult to do, because there are two myths that we carry with us and the first is: When I accept Christ, I become a Christian and Christ comes and lives inside of me and somehow growing into an emotionally mature adult is natural. It just happens. I’m a new creation in Christ. The old things have passed away. All things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation’ the old has gone, the new has come!” We can apply this to our whole life but what this is talking about is our position with God. We now stand before God and in the righteousness of Jesus alone, we’re completely forgiven, we’re loved in Christ. That’s the good news, but, just like the Israelites that came out of Egypt after 400 years of slavery, they were not mature. By grace, they were now God’s people. They were His chosen ones, they were loved by Him, but, there was still a whole process of discipleship that they would go through. And it is not natural to grow into an emotionally mature adult. Physical growth usually occurs naturally but emotional health doesn’t.
Myth number two is that a Christian’s ability to love those around them is qualitatively different than those outside the church. And that’s what we hope to be true and it should be true, shouldn’t it? But the truth is, as many sociologists have found in Christians and non-Christians, is that most Christian’s ability to love is not that different from those outside the church. And, the divorce rate is pretty much the same, too. The sexual immorality rate; and parenting and greed and conflict and anger are very similar. You know, we’re really not that much different. And our quality of love –underneath the surface and behind closed doors – is truly not that much better. Normally, there’s a lot of good stuff that goes on Sunday mornings. Good pretending, everyone looks wonderful praising God, but behind closed doors things aren’t so pretty in marriages and families. And no one in this room would debate that a spiritually mature Christian is somebody who loves well. That’s maturity. And just like Paul said, “If I don’t love well, I have nothing.” The problem is that very few of us, if any of us, have learned how to practically do that. How do I actually implement loving well in life? Like: Being slow to speak and quick to hear; and in my anger, asserting my anger but not sinning. How do I speak the truth in love? How do I do these things? The Bible tells us to do them, but doesn’t give us the specifics on how to do them, because they have to be conceptualized in every generation and every culture and all through history. We need to make them a part of our discipleship.
I hope that all of us want to grow into emotionally mature adults. So here’s a little inventory I’d like to do with all of you in this room to give you a sense of where are you right now as we launch into “Growing into An Emotionally Mature Adult”. I want you to think with me of a chronological infant, a little baby. If a baby feels a need, it can’t speak yet so all it does is cry and whine. A chronological baby must wait for the parents to figure out why they’re crying. And if the parents don’t respond or are inattentive, the little baby gets angry. Now an adult who’s an emotional infant is really not that different. They can communicate but they still treat others as objects to meet their needs. An adult who’s an emotional infant acts like a tyrant and wins through intimidation. It’s very much: “It’s my way!” and an adult who’s an emotional infant really can’t empathize with other people; they’re too wrapped up in themselves.
Now think of a chronological child who’s five, eight, ten years old. They can communicate but they are still dependent on others. Instead of saying, ‘I’m really sad because my friend didn’t pick me for the kick ball team,’ the child comes home and starts throwing things, having a tantrum and doesn’t know how to express themselves or their anger clearly. A chronological child will act out feelings of pain, resentment and fear rather than be able to articulate them. They lack the skills to openly discuss and negotiate getting their needs met. Children can’t do it. They don’t have the skills yet. An adult who’s an emotional child is still acting out resentment through distancing and pouting and whining and clinging and lying and withholding and appeasing. They do not openly and honestly express their needs either because they’re still functioning as an emotional child even though, physically, they’re grown up.
Let’s look at an adolescent. Adolescents generally rebel against parental authority and they define themselves in reaction to others, they fear being treated as a child and think, ‘Don’t tell me what to do!’ Adolescents, they love you one day and they hate you the next. Everything is black and white. There’s not a lot of grey. You’re either in or you’re out. What happens when we’re not growing into our own emotional adulthood as adults, we may be big people in bodies, and 20, 30, 40, 50, 80 years old, but we’re still emotional adolescents, where we can’t give without feeling controlled or resentful. Adolescents say, “So yeah I’m giving in but now you owe me because I’m keeping score.” Their capacity for mutual concern is still missing. It’s still basically one way. Still narcissistic. Still full of self. Defensive and threatened by criticism. You know, “you say something negative to me, I’m going to give you three back.” Does that sound familiar to any of you?
But, by God’s grace, and as part of growing and maturing in Christ, we grow into emotional adults. Here are some of the characteristics of an emotional adult: (1) An emotional adult is able to ask for what they need, what they want and what they prefer. They can do it clearly and directly and respectfully and honestly. (2) And with an emotional adult—it’s not a win – lose. I win, you lose or you win, I lose. Emotional Adults want both to win. It’s a desire for the relationship to win. (3) An emotional adult listens with some empathy. They look at how the world and the situation looks from another’s point of view. (4) An emotional adult can risk saying what’s needed without attacking the other person. (5) They can respect other people without having to change them (6) They are able to resolve conflict and negotiate solutions instead of being like an infant or a child or adolescent. (7) And they can give other people and themselves room to make mistakes and not be perfect. It’s okay. It’s not the end of the world. That’s an emotional adult. Look at this chart and ask yourself, “Where am I on this?” Being a follower of Christ is realizing that emotional adulthood does not come naturally. It is a part of our discipleship and the family of Jesus and part of integrating our loving of God and others well.
Let’s look at a person in the Bible who modelled mature loving. Turn in your bibles to Luke 10. This person is the Good Samaritan. The Good Samaritan is someone who demonstrated healthy emotional adult loving. This parable was written to us – to church goers. We also see the lawyer, who is a Bible scholar ask Jesus, “What do I do to inherit eternal life?” And what does Jesus say? He says ‘to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength…and love your neighbour as yourself.’ That’s it! Love God, love other people. There’s the whole Bible in a nutshell. We see that Jesus’ response makes the lawyer uncomfortable and he asks, “Well, who is my neighbour and how do you define the neighbour thing?” And Jesus tells him this great parable.
This parable takes place on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. It’s this narrow road of 18 miles and it’s a very steep and lots of robbers would be found hidden in caves lining the road. So the story goes a man is walking on the road and he gets beat up. He gets mugged and he’s stripped naked and is half dead. He’s beat up, robbed, and shamed. It’s a very nasty scene. Two people pass by, in verse 31 and 32, a priest and a Levite. Two folks who knew their Bibles. They had memorized the first five books of the Old Testament. They preached sermons on loving. They knew it. Their whole life was to serve God but when they see the man on the side of the road, their hearts aren’t moved. Nothing but deadness and they walk right by. They don’t investigate the crisis. They don’t try to get help. We don’t know what’s going on but they clearly have a disconnected spirituality. They somehow have separated loving God and mature loving of other people. They’ve placed loving God and loving others in different camps. Jesus, of course, wants us to bring them together. Jesus doesn’t say why they pass by the man. And there could be a thousand reasons why – maybe they were busy. Maybe they were preoccupied. Maybe they were thinking about their sermons or what they had to do. Maybe they were frightened that the robbers would beat them. We don’t know and Jesus doesn’t explain. The point is they pass by. Their hearts are not soft and they’re not moved.
But, by comparison, you’ll notice in verse 33, which is the heart of the parable, is the Good Samaritan comes by. It says, “…he sees the man and he…”—the key word in this whole parable is, “he takes pity”. His heart is soft. It’s not hard and it’s moved towards the man and he does something to help him. The shock of this parable is the fact that it’s a Samaritan who helps. Jews saw them as second class citizens; as inferior. Jews and Samaritans hated each other. They were different races, different religions, and had different political views. And as far as Jews were concerned, all Samaritans were going to hell. In fact it’s a townsman who said, ‘he who eats bread with Samaritans is like the one who eats the flesh of pigs.’ That’s how deep the animosity was between these two groups; yet, Jesus tells a story and makes a Samaritan a hero. Can you imagine what a shock that was? To give you a perspective, think of a person that you hate or someone that, as far as you’re concerned, can’t be right with God. Insert that person into the parable, in the place of the Samaritan and you’ll get a sense of the shock of it. And, yet we see that the Good Samaritan takes pity; he has compassion. This word “compassion” is the same word in Greek that is used throughout the New Testament for Jesus. When Jesus sees the multitude and the dead widow and her son, He’s moved with compassion over and over again. The feeling of compassion is very strong; the word in Greek is like the gut. The anguish he feels is like a bodily reaction. He is physically filled with compassion for this guy on the side of the road and he does something about it. He stops and cares for him there and he takes him to the inn. He gives practical medical care, and then he puts him on his donkey to transport him. He throws in a few dollars to pay for the inn. He exposes himself to some possible danger from robbers.
At the end of the parable, Jesus asks the lawyer and all of us, “Who is my neighbour?” And the lawyer answers, “The one who had mercy.” Jesus ends the parable by saying, “Go and do likewise.” His point is and the key word here is: Do something. The Samaritan did something out of a heart of compassion. It starts with the heart of a person who has mercy and they let that mercy move them. Now realize that the only way that we can live out this text is if we realize that we are the guy on the side of the road. Naked, shamed, beat up, half dead and Jesus is our Good Samaritan. The only way we’ll ever have that mercy will flow out of us, is if we recognize that we were the person lying on the side of the road and Jesus stopped and didn’t just put some oil on us and bandage us up. He actually came and died for us and saved us and picked us up and brought us to the inn and He put us together and He had mercy on us and forgave us of our sins. He rose from the dead. He lifted us up, He made us His son, His daughter and only if we experience His mercy do we even have a hope and prayer of giving mercy out to other people. So when we read this parable we must see, first of all, the fact that Jesus is our Good Samaritan who came from heaven to earth to rescue us and save us and bring us to a place where we might have something to give. We’re alive by the free grace of God alone.
Now this Good Samaritan loves maturely. He has a healthy mercy. But there’s dysfunctional mercy when you’re trying to rescue and save the whole world. I don’t have time to go into that, but our Good Samaritan demonstrates a healthy mercy. He had boundaries and limits. He does get involved but he does continue still on his journey. He brings him to an inn. He doesn’t bring him to mom. He takes him to an inn. He pays some money and says I’ll come back in a couple of days. He doesn’t obligate himself financially for the rest of his life. He doesn’t try to be everything for the guy. It’s interesting how he has a healthy mercy in responding to this person but the question is; “How do we?” The Good Samaritan models what it means to have mercy and a healthy and mature love.
So, what does it mean for us to grow into an emotionally mature adult? I want to look at two basic keys or applications for us to grow into emotionally mature adults. The first is this. It requires becoming aware of our family of origin’s capacity for emotional connection. Our ability to love well as an adult is directly connected to how emotionally secure the environment was when we grew up. This is a question to give us a sense of our own emotional maturity—how emotionally secure and healthy was my environment? Ask yourself this question. Can you recall being comforted as a child after a time of emotional distress? I’m not talking about getting the flu. I’m talking about when you got cut from the basketball team or betrayed by a friend or your best friend moved away. Think about something pretty serious for you as a child. Can you remember being comforted as a child after a time of emotional distress? Or maybe another way to look at it is to think of a time when one of your parents or caregivers comforted you when you were really upset or really scared or really sad. The goal is not to find fault, of course, in our parents. Most parents did the best they could with what they had. The key here is the truth because those years shaped us. And those years shaped our ability to love and to connect emotionally with people as adults. But the key is to look honestly at what was, so I can gain a picture of what might have gone wrong in those early years. Then, I can begin a journey of growth and change. But I can’t even begin a journey a growth and health and change, if I’m unaware of where I’m starting from. So I’ve got to look back at that.
For example, one woman, Cynthia, was eight-years-old when her mother was killed in a car accident. Up to this point, she had a very secure attachment to her mom. But when her mom dies, her father is now completely overwhelmed, goes into depression and grows increasingly isolated from Cynthia as well as the rest of the kids. So now her older siblings have to raise her, but they really don’t want to raise her either so she ends up being ignored for the rest of her childhood. She has no memory of receiving comfort during a stressful time. When asked how she felt, she said that no one even noticed her and, as a little girl, she just naturally began to withdraw from people. So what happened was; she eventually emotionally shut herself down. She had to do that as a child to survive. But now she’s adult. She gets married. She’s got a couple of kids and now she has a tremendous difficulty tolerating her children’s needs or dependence. She had to take care of herself and be independent. She doesn’t know how to let her children be dependent upon her.
The point is that what happens to us growing up in our childhood leaves an imprint on us in a core way of how we emotionally connect, or do not connect, and relate to people. We must look at that honestly in order to be set free from it and it can be quite painful initially. We’re called to maturely love well and we either experience comfort from our parents or caregivers or it was absent. It’s important to look at this. For example: when you were growing up, were you taught to identify and express what was happening inside of you? Were you even asked? We find that is a real key to our ability to knowing ourselves and growing. When we are growing up and we have the chance to talk about our experiences, it allows us to become self-reflective and self-aware. If we never received that as a child, we will find that it is difficult for us, as an adult, to know what we feel.
Here are some questions to ask yourself so you will become aware of your family of origin’s capability for emotional connection. Did I learn to trust? Did I learn to respect other people? Did I learn to wait and take turns? Did your parents or caregivers understand your behaviour? If you had a temper tantrum, did they ask you why? What’s going on? What happened? Or, why are you crying? Were your feelings even allowed growing up? Were you allowed to be the child or were you expected to be a caregiver for your parent’s feelings? If so, you ended up being their caregiver and now, as an adult, there’s no space for you. Or did you learn independence as well as dependence? Did you learn the proper balance of the two and when to be dependent and when to be independent? Did your parents help you walk through those tasks?
The point is, some of us may end up hiding parts of ourselves and, in doing so, and we avoid vulnerability. Then we end up walking around with all these invisible barriers to loving well. And we could be quite terrified to look at them. Our lessons in loving well and our lessons in emotional maturity start as children and they last. They have a deep imprint on us and they form us. They create a core pattern of how we relate to everybody around us. That’s why they are a big discipleship issue because we are called to mature and grow up. What might have been survival for you as a child may have become your core pattern, but as an adult, it can actually be a prison for you. Jesus came not just to save you but He came to set you free. And as you grow into an emotional adult that loves and is passionate for God, you will also be able to love others well, especially your most intimate relationships. But if you never got loved well, it’s not that easy to give it. Have you found that out? It’s very difficult. So part of being in the new family of Jesus is that we’re creating the means for us to give it to each other and we’re learning to love well. This is part of discipleship and so we need to acknowledge the truth of our childhood. I’ve got to become aware of my family of origin’s capability or lack there of for emotional connection. And I know that it’s not for the sake of blaming, it’s simply so we can make a roadmap for growth and change leading me to the second application.
The second application is: I’ve got to take some practical steps of discipleship to grow into an emotionally mature adult. The parable of a Good Samaritan makes one point and that is that loving God and loving others are connected. We cannot separate the two. So if we want to mature as a Christian, it involves the whole package. But don’t kid yourself or be deceived. Growing into an emotionally mature adult can be terrifying. It’s frightening because for some of us—if we’ve had an emotional ‘awareness’ meter in us—some of us our meters are broken. We have never developed the self-reflective skills to even feel. We may feel like we don’t even know where to start with this. This is like walking into a giant abyss. But, the key thing is this: becoming a Christian does not automatically make us an emotionally mature adult, but it does give us the grace and the courage and the power to break out of that prison and to learn to be an emotionally mature adult and to love well. Grace enables us to take risks and do some things differently. We love our families and honour our cultures in appropriate ways but we are all about doing life now God’s way in His family in the kingdom of God.
So we can’t go forward unless we go back first. Some of you may thinking: “I just can’t do it. There’s no way because there’s such a mess in my past that I can’t even go there. It’s impossible!” But, the good news for you is, “Yes, you can.” Jesus said, with man it’s impossible, but not with God. “All things are possible with God.” With God, we can change those core patterns that were deeply imprinted on our soul. With human beings it’s impossible, but not with God. All things are possible with God. God has begun a good work in you and He will complete it in you. We need to reject the core ways that we have learned. Even though they have taught us how to behave our whole lives, we need to open ourselves up to Jesus to change us. It’s His grace that does the work. And so it’s like running a marathon. You may say, “I can’t run a marathon. In fact, I can barely run anymore. I’m just walking now.” But if you want to run a marathon, you have to train slowly over time. You start by running a mile, then two miles, then four miles and you build up to it over a long period of time. You don’t just go on a 22-mile race. It is the same when you want to grow into an emotional adult. You may think you are so far away from being an emotional adult, but you start slowly and by doing little things. You’ve gotten hurt and now it’s time to do life differently. This is a whole new way of living life and it takes time. You don’t turn a caterpillar into a butterfly overnight. And, you don’t grow into an emotionally mature adult without hard work and time. It’s the hard work of discipleship. This is the rubber hitting road. This is the parable of Good Samaritan. Go and do likewise. This is your spirituality having an impact on the deep iceberg parts of who you are so that you truly are different in the ways that you relate to people.
But understand it’s a process. It takes a lot of time and it is discipleship. But here’s the beauty of it. If you’ll do it, there is a life and fruit and things like joy and pleasure and a contentment that’s not based on circumstances, that you will get on the other side if you’ll stick with it. In fact, some of the signs that you’re on the other side is that you’ll begin to act spontaneously and creativity will begin to flow out of you. You find yourself able to enjoy the moments of life. You find yourself losing interest in judging other people. You find yourself losing interest in power plays and conflict. You even stop worrying so much because some things don’t matter anymore. And you have frequent overwhelming episodes of appreciation for people and for life and a new sense of connectedness to people. And you begin to let go and let things happen rather than always trying to control everything. The alternative of not doing the hard work and taking the time to grow into an emotionally mature adult is that you will live your adult life as a prisoner of your past. So you can choose; but I want to tell you that there is a life on the other side and a promised land in Jesus. That is our inheritance that Jesus won for us at the cross and the world desperately needs this from us. We are to be the people on the earth that love the best because we have been loved the best.