While preparing to leave for college last summer, the part that excited me most was the prospect of finally being on my own. I could finally do what I wanted when I wanted, I could go places without asking permission, I could explore the entire universe without worrying about making it back before curfew. Oh, how great it would be! I was finally going to be an adult – I even got to start paying bills like they do!
Ok, all joking aside, my point remains. I got to be my own little naïve entity, gently floating through the vast expanse of West Michigan. However, as my freshman year of college quickly blew by, I woke up from my sleep-deprivation-and-ramen-noodle-induced coma in mid-February and realized that life was not quite how I imagined it to be. I had not, in fact, grown up. Actually, I felt like I did the opposite. See, I had high hopes for my life once I left for college. It would be my first experience in Christian education, and I just sorta figured I would snap my fingers and immediately stop making stupid decisions or saying hurtful things. Now, here’s a real spoiler for those of you who plan to attend a Christian college, so feel free to skip over it if you like surprises: Christian colleges are full of sinners too. And to borrow some humbling and eloquent words from the Apostle Paul, I was the foremost. I still acted arrogantly, I still said things I wish I could take back, I still struggled with a lot of the same things that I did during high school. But wait, you ask, I thought you were an adult now!
I wasn’t. I’m still not. But I’m choosing to work harder at getting there.
Maturity is a Choice
See, I think that maturing is a choice that we take. Your work ethic, your self-control, your ability to act responsibly, they’re all options – you can choose to embrace them or cast them aside. I viewed my maturity as inevitable; once I got in an environment filled with Christians, it would just magically happen, like flipping on a light switch. But the truth is, that’s just not gonna happen. One of the consequences of the fall is that we are a broken image of Christ now, like a reflection in a shattered mirror. We aren’t inherently good, we’ve been tainted by sin. And because of that, the choices that we make to grow closer to God are hard: they don’t just happen automatically. This year I had a lot of problems with the way I conducted myself, especially in my dorm. In an all-guy culture, I naturally got more competitive (and with that, I built up a lot of arrogance as well) and it permeated my actions even outside of campus. I was faced with strings of choices each day: respond with pride or humility, speak or hold my tongue, build up or tear down. And I screwed up over and over again. But here’s my point – they were choices that I consciously made. Not things I was doing subconsciously or without realization, but rather things that I knew were wrong. Let’s take a moment to look at some Scripture:
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jer. 31:33-34)
The beauty of the New Covenant, as described here in the book of Jeremiah, is that we no longer have an excuse for sin – God’s word is now written on our hearts. No, we’re not inherently good. But we are born with the opportunity for salvation because of this beautiful promise that God made to us. But what does this mean in the context of growing up? Well, it means that we’re presented with a choice to do the right or wrong thing at any given moment. It’s an obvious (but strangely hidden at the same time) realization, and one that can change our actions and our thoughts dramatically.
Our Past Choices Shape Our Future Ones
One of the very frustrating things I’ve found throughout my life is that I am, like everyone else on this planet, subject to falling into routines. It can be a good thing in some situations, like learning to open doors for others or remembering to turn our cars off before filling up the gas tank.These are things we just do now, simply because we’ve done them so many times before. But habit can also be incredibly unhelpful, like when we set a pattern of laziness or argue when we’re asked to do something. When we act in a certain way, we’re more likely to repeat this action when faced with similar circumstances down the road. I remember a time in my life when I couldn’t finish a game of hockey without getting bored, but once I moved to Michigan and attended a Grand Rapids Griffins hockey game almost every week of my first semester of college, I fell in love with the sport. Why? Well, 1) it’s an awesome sport and 2) I just formed a habit of enjoying it. Each of us has little stories like that, and it’s because we’re creatures of habit. Because of that defining truth about all of humanity, it’s important that we recognize the significance of even our little choices to do the right thing. As we take steps to respond to others with humility and grace, to speak in uplifting and edifying ways, to respect authority, we build ourselves a foundation on which our future actions will be placed. This is the beginning of true maturity: that we create patterns of God-glorifying behavior. God doesn’t command us to offer up one act of sacrifice each day, but rather commands us to offer our whole beings. We could choose to stay in a rut, or we can choose to fulfill the incredible potential that we have through Christ.
It’s not a question of whether we can. It’s a question of whether we will.
Have any insight on this post? Let me know in the comment section below.