Can you go back and remember the tale of Peter Pan? Peter Pan and Tinkerbell come to the home of Wendy and her brothers and whisk her away to Neverland -- a place where you never, ever grow up. Neverland is a magical place full of mermaids, fairies, pirates, Indians, Captain Hook, and the Lost Boys. More than anything, you never have to face all the complexities that come with being an adult; mainly confronting the "doubt" of whether or not Neverland even exists.
"Lost in Neverland" is probably a good description of where many of our 20-somethings and young adults find themselves today. This demographic, many times labeled "Generation Y" or "Millennials," now make up one of the most underemployed segments of our society.
The fashion section of New York Magazine released a story several weeks ago highlighting how these "underemployed millennials" continue to increase their extravagant spending. The Fiscal Times reported that while some of these 20-somethings have launched promising careers, most of them are burdened by student loans and excessive debt -- yet still lead the market in luxury purchases.
So where does the excess come from? While some of it may come from their parents, many 20-somethings will skimp on areas like rent, food and long-term savings to provide themselves the latest technology or newest fashion. The latest iPhone is not considered a luxury to many millennials but an absolute essential. Long-term debt is not a viable deterrent because these immediate luxuries are viewed as necessities.
Tim Elmore, leader, speaker, and author of Artificial Maturity describes the paradox of this next generation. "They are advanced intellectually, but behind emotionally. They have been exposed to more information and knowledge than ever before but they take more time to actually 'grow up' and prepare for the responsibilities of adulthood."
Whether it's the 28-year-old man who lives in his parent's basement and has a moderate addiction to Modern Warfare, or the recent grad who is looking for a corporate internship yet living like he's already the executive, the problem is apparent.
So here's the bigger question: Why? Why do so many of our 20-somethings have more opportunities and information than ever before yet lack the maturity necessary to achieve greatness? I believe it's because real emotional maturity is not something that can be read in a textbook, extracted from a blog, or sometimes even achieved in a single experience.
Maturity requires process. It takes the patience to sit back and learn, to persevere, to prove oneself faithful, to make the difficult decisions when nobody is looking.
The Builder Generation, made up of individuals born before 1946, navigated through two world wars, the great depression, and Pearl Harbor. Through tough times and hard work they persevered and built the U.S. into the greatest nation in the world, despite all the obstacles. There were no handouts, no shortcuts, no long-term debt options. They simply understood that through hard work and perseverance they could build families, traditions, values, homes, friendships, communities and churches.
This is the point where many people begin talking about how we've wired our kids to be this way. The parents are really the issue. Why does the kid who placed seventh at the baseball tournament get the same trophy as the kid who finished first? Why do parents continue to shell out money to their children who refuse to step out and leave the nest? Unlike the Builder Generation, this generation carries with it a sense of entitlement and a tendency to take the shortcut whenever possible. All the stuff it gets is not necessarily the result of hard work and effort.
So, how can we go about raising up a generation of "emotionally mature" adults?
There are no two characters who better display the difference articulated in this article than King Saul and King David. Two individuals set apart to lead the people of Israel into the place God had planned. From the outside it's possible to find a number of similarities between the two kings. Inwardly, however, the decisions and ultimate destination of these two men could not be more different.
Saul's character was a complete and total façade -- entirely built on sand. He had the look, the talk and even the natural talent, but when placed in the trenches he continually failed to make the difficult decisions. When forced to decide between an issue of personal integrity and the opportunity to take all the resources of the Amalekites, Saul took the stuff (1 Samuel: 15). In the aftermath, instead of displaying a sense of personal accountability and responsibility for his decision, Saul played cover-up and was ultimately rejected as King over Israel.
On a side note, Saul spent the last years of his life living like a madman. He traveled around the country trying to kill a young man (David) who had all the qualities and character that Saul had neglected.
On the opposite spectrum stands King David. When anointed King of Israel at a young age, he actually went back into the countryside alone to tend his father's sheep. When given the opportunity to shortcut the process and kill King Saul, he chose to honor authority. When given the opportunity to kill off King Saul's family through his grandson Mephibosheth, David instead honored Saul's grandson with land and a place at the king's table for the rest of his life.
The destination, the grandeur of success, was not nearly as important to David as the journey, the process. On another side note, David, while having his fair share of failures in life, finished his life as one of the greatest and most influential kings the world has ever seen.
To truly grow into emotional maturity, a person must embrace the process over the destination. He or she must be able to willingly choose the path of most resistance and do what is difficult even if it's never noticed.
This whole journey is called "the process." If we are to raise up a generation of mature teenagers, 20-somethings and young adults, then they must begin to embrace "the process." They must understand that it's okay to have dreams and believe you can really make a difference, but that those things will never come to fruition unless the characteristics of character, integrity, perseverance, patience and faithfulness are embraced.
When an emotionally mature 20-something collides with a God-sized opportunity, the result will be maximum impact and enduring legacy.
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