The Journey of Adulthood: Unpacking What It Truly Means to ‘Grow Up

The question remains: what transforms a person into an adult? Is it merely an age milestone or a regular paycheck? Perhaps it’s defined by relationship status or homeownership? Or is the concept of adulthood rooted deeper than mundane responsibilities and bills? In an era where prolonged adolescence is revered (cue films like “Old School,” “The Hangover,” and “Hall Pass”), maybe it’s time to rediscover the beauty in maturing. Here are five markers to identify and appreciate true adulthood:

1. You Prioritize Needs Over Wants

A common trait among children is their struggle to distinguish between wants and needs. When we blur this line, we often favor instant pleasure over enduring fulfillment. Adulthood is about discerning the difference between these two. As a friend in his twenties once stated, “The moment I could send myself to bed because of work the next day, I knew I had become an adult.”

2. You Recognize and Respect Your Limits

A truly courageous act of adulthood is acknowledging and respecting our limitations. It’s simple to mistake independence for arrogance. Arrogance proclaims, “I am limitless,” and tricks us into thinking we’re immune to negative influences or can bypass any limitations deemed ‘juvenile.’ The brave and mature choice is to recognize our shortcomings and set healthy boundaries.

Paul, in Romans 14, talks about treating each other with kindness and refraining from judgment regarding decisions we make to avoid stumbling in our faith. This principle can be applied to our own faith and personal decisions too. For instance, I steer clear of violent movies or shows; such content disturbs my peace and joy. This self-imposed restriction isn’t restrictive; rather, it feels like an act of kindness toward my own soul. Recognizing ourselves as individuals with limits enables us to respect our bodies and souls and make decisions accordingly.

3. You Accept Your Parents’ Humanity

One of my supervisors once shared, “If you can forgive your parents by your thirties, you’re emotionally healthy.” Maturity means acknowledging the humanity of our parents and other authority figures. It involves understanding that those we’ve looked up to also have their flaws and traumas. Forgiving them for their shortcomings during our childhood, and feeling empathy for their struggles, is a mark of maturity.

When we let go of resentment towards those who’ve let us down, we allow God to meet those needs in fresh, healthy ways—through our relationship with Him, friendships, and faith communities. Healing from familial wounds contributes to our growth into maturity.

4. You Acknowledge You’re Still Growing

Acknowledging our room for growth is a key indicator of maturity. 1 Corinthians 13 discusses childish thinking, reasoning, and speaking, then goes on to say, “Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” Maturity involves recognizing our limited knowledge and accepting our weaknesses. We start seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance in catering to the needs of our souls rather than momentary desires.

Growing into adulthood is about cultivating a loving relationship with ourselves and God. This relationship encourages us to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us,” not lingering at the starting line when God has destined us for greater things. This spiritual journey commences with our everyday decisions to shed childish tendencies and pursue a life of maturity in Him.

5. You’ve Gained the Freedom to Make Your Own Decisions

Maturity invites responsibility. Once you accept that responsibility—be it landing a job, managing your bills, or moving out—you’ve earned the autonomy to make personal choices.

I know a newlywed couple who saved for two years to embark on a cross-country adventure for five weeks. They made daily sacrifices that ultimately enabled them to live out this dream. They accepted certain restrictions in their lives for long-term gain. That’s the essence of maturity and it doesn’t lead to a dull life—it opens the door to an exciting journey.

Adulthood might seem daunting, but you know what’s even scarier? The life experiences you’ll miss if you hesitate to mature. While the journey may be challenging, it promises to be rewarding too.