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People choose counseling to improve their lives. To grow requires completing the transition from childhood to adulthood. Children lack the ability or initiative to choose for themselves. True adults initiate decisions and learn from the consequences of their choices.
In all the years I’ve provided counseling to others, I’ve observed five core concepts that advance this growth process into adulthood.
Grow by Defining What is Meaningful
Whatever you are doing must be meaningful in some way. Another word for meaningful is worthwhile. So, here is a good question to explore: What makes your life worth living?
If you are unhappy with life, maybe it’s because you aren’t paying attention to what you find meaningful. Life is short; you might as well spend it in the most meaningful way possible.
Whatever problems you are facing, try taking a step back from them, then refocus on what would make life worth living.
Grow by Learning to be Self-Directed
One way to measure maturity is to look at how internally motivated you are. But before you can be self-directed, you first need to be self-aware.
To be internally motivated means to have as your end goal becoming true to who God made you to be. For this, you need to know what you were created for. Then, you can direct your activity in the most efficient way possible to reach your goals.
External motivation is the opposite; it has the potential to create internal or external conflict. That’s because the motivation to act comes from someone else who doesn’t know what it is like to be you.
An extreme example of this might be the now infamous If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about. People don’t like to be told what to do, at least not without having the opportunity to evaluate the options for themselves.
Children aren’t mature enough to be internally motivated. They don’t know themselves, so they can’t be the best decisions for themselves. Instead, they must rely on their parents. Unfortunately, parents don’t always know what is best either. Responsible people grow in their ability to make their own decisions.
Grow by Learning Your Abilities
Self-awareness grows with age when people invest the time to learn how God made them. You have strengths that God intends for you to use for the good of His kingdom. To grow in your identity, you must be able to see what you already have–your abilities–and strengthen them.
Grow by Learning Your Wounds
Another area for self-awareness is to understand how you have been hurt. To grow in your identity, you must also be able to see what is missing–your wounds–and approach God to allow Him to make up for what you have lost. You can heal if you can replace or replenish what you never received in the first place.
Grow by Purifying Your Desires
Desires are one way that people are different from any other aspect of creation, whether we consider other living creatures like animals or inanimate objects like computers or robots.
What you desire becomes your motivation. Desires can be life-giving, corrupt, or somewhere in between. They can lead you down a productive path or a destructive path. Therefore, it’s important to be self-aware of your longings.
Most of the time, what you want isn’t bad in itself. Usually, the problem is with what you’d be willing to sacrifice to gain what you want. The story of Cain and Able is a simple, but extreme, example.
“Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”Genesis 4:6-7 NLT
Cain wanted acceptance. Instead of the right path of seeking God, he chose the destructive path of killing his brother. Corrupt desires lead to destruction. But purified desires make a person unstoppable in pursuing God’s will.
The ability to discern what type of desire you are dealing with takes time to develop. First, you must desire to know about your desires. Then you must sort through your valid longings and sinful longings to know the difference. Valid longings are those you can express but they also require the patience to let them be met as God sees fit. Sinful longings are destructive when they become a demand that must be met immediately.
People might want to eat a sandwich, but can they wait in line until it is their turn? There’s nothing wrong with wanting to eat, but what about the person who is willing to push people aside, or even kill them, to get to the front of the line?
Most people wouldn’t go to such an extreme. Yet many people will go to the opposite extreme. They might leave the line altogether, believing they are unworthy of good things, and so starve themselves of the very things that God wants them to have.
Seek to understand your longings and have God purify your desires. If you need help with any of this, consider a Christian counselor.
Matt Pavlik is a licensed professional clinical counselor who wants to see each individual restored to their true identity. He has more than 20 years of experience counseling individuals and couples at his Christian counseling practice, New Reflections Counseling. Matt and Georgette have been married since 1999 and live with their four children in Centerville, Ohio.