Jun 102014 10 Responses

A Forgotten Sign of Adulthood

Adults are supposed to be different than children.

Time, experience, and physical growth should produce maturity.

Maturity allows us to think rationally, put things in context, and understand what is and isn’t important.

My 6-year-old cries when he doesn’t get a toy because he is immature. He doesn’t understand there will be more toys, more opportunities, and even if he doesn’t get a toy, life will go on. (See: Is it Dead or Dormant?)

One aspect of maturity is discernment. A mature person has the ability to distinguish one thing from another. What an immature person sees as being the same things, a mature person can distinguish as having differences.

Discernment: a Forgotten Sign of Adulthood

We have lost all ability to distinguish one from another. And so we assume:

  • If something is right for you, it must be right for me
  • If something worked for me, it must work for you
  • If a decision has a good outcome, it must be right
  • If a decision has a bad outcome, it must be wrong

The nuanced, complex, world which requires intense thinking has been reduced to a simplistic, black and white world which only requires our gut (and rarely our minds) in order to make a good decision. (See: Remember This When You Make a Mistake)

Our inability to discern has disastrous consequences:

It produces debt. Because we can’t discern what is right and wrong for us as individuals, we assume if a friend can afford something, so can we. We never consider how our finances differ from theirs. We never see the negative consequences of owning more things. Instead, we see something a friend has and we want it. Foolishly we purchase things we can’t afford all because we cannot discern wise spending from foolish spending.

It produces addiction. We see a friend engage in activities or behaviors which seem enjoyable and we never consider our temptations or weaknesses. It seems unfair to abstain from alcohol when others enjoy it. It seems prudish to avoid the casinos when our friends are going there on Friday night. When we fail to understand that we are tempted in ways others are not, we let our guard down. If someone lives within wise financial principles, a trip to Vegas can be great fun. Yet if someone struggles with a gambling addiction, the same trip can destroy them. When we fail to discern our strengths and weaknesses, we open ourselves up to addiction. (See: Drama Addicts, Why Your Friends Life Is Always in Chaos)

It produces divorce. Many relationships end because a couple does not have the ability to discern what they need to do, or not do, in order to make the relationship flourish. By failing to understand what it takes to succeed, they fail. They might assume the failure is because of incompatibility or not marrying their soul mate, but often it is because of a lack of discernment. (See: The Number One Cause of Divorce)

Why Some Learn Discernment And Others Don’t

Discernment is always learned through failure. There is no other way. It’s possible to learn through the failings of others–we watch, seek to understand, and discern what could happen if we make similar mistakes. However, most of the time failure is learned through our own failings. We make a decision, fail, and have the opportunity to learn. (See: You Won’t Change Until…)

Yet just because we fail does not mean we will learn to discern. There is a key difference between those who fail and learn and those who fail and do not learn. If we blame our failures on someone or something other than ourselves, we will never learn true discernment. Blame removes the responsibility from ourselves and places it on someone else. While blaming is fun, it is never useful.

It’s only by taking personal responsibility for our choices and decisions that we can learn to discern what is right and wrong; what works and what doesn’t; what is good for us and what is harmful. Those who own their decisions learn discernment; those who blame others do not.

What Does Discernment Look Like?

Discernment might reveal itself in different ways for different people, but there are a few common characteristics of those who have matured into adulthood and have the ability to discern:

Financial: Financial discernment means I make all financial decisions based on my income, savings, debt, and personal goals for the future. I do not buy and spend based on the spending habits of my friends or co-workers. I recognize some can afford things I cannot. I recognize some will choose to spend their money in ways I do not choose. As a Christian, I recognize my giving to others will limit the dollars I can spend on myself. (See: What a Timeshare Presentation Taught Me About Bad Decision Making)

Relational: Relational discernment means I have the freedom to choose who my spouse, friends, and many times bosses will be. I do not have to be in a relationship with people I do not want to be around. I am free to accept or reject anyone within my life. While I will serve and love all people, I will not partner with those in serious need. I will serve those in need, but I will marry and hire (or be hired) by those with a certain level of emotional health. (Of course through sickness or tragedy, the emotional health of a partner could change in an instant. That would not free me from my responsibilities of a partner. There are many things I will endure as a spouse or co-worker which I would willfully avoid if the circumstance revealed itself prior to a commitment being made.)

Spiritual. Spiritual discernment means I understand things are not always as they appear. What society calls good, God may call bad. What God commands, culture may mock. Spiritual discernment seeks to allow God to define right and wrong. We then attempt to be unmoved by what others say or believe.

Discernment is a sign of adulthood. It is the result of maturity. Discernment protects us from foolish choices and bad decision making. It allows us to understand the world and those around us. It provides peace and enjoyment with what we have and what we do not have. It gives us a deep appreciation for the good things in life while softening the hurt of those things which are bad.

Sadly, discernment has become a lost art. Many are failing to mature which results in a good number of people who physically are adults but emotionally and socially are children. Don’t fall for the trap. The world is not always simple. You are not always right. Issues are not always black and white. No one is totally perfect or completely evil.

Life is complex. Issues are nuanced. Everybody is both good and bad. These realities demand discernment from us. And discernment is only possible when we take ownership for our lives and seek to learn how to make better decisions.

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