Howard Thurman’s Stages of Maturity

by Martin Vorel

The immediate reaction of the child is clear and precise: varying forms of protest from the sustained whisper to the roaring scream (these two words are used together quite advisedly).  Sometimes it is a battle of nerves between the baby and the mother.

At this point the baby is having his initial encounter with spiritual discipline.  A pattern of life has been interrupted.  In the presence of an expanding time interval between wish and fulfillment the child is forced to make adjustment, to make room in the tight circle of his life for something new, different, and therefore threatening.  The baby begins to learn how to wait, how to postpone fulfillment.  He thus finds his way into community within the family circle.


…If the response of the parents or others continues to be available on demand, the conscious or unconscious intent being to keep the time interval at zero between wish and fulfillment, the baby begins to get a false conditioning about the world and his place in it.  For if he grows up expecting and regarding as his due that to wish is to have his wish fulfilled, then he is apt to become a permanent cripple.  There are many adults who for various reasons have escaped this essential discipline of their spirit.  True, in terms of physical and intellectual development they have continued to grow.  Their bodies and minds have moved through all the intervening stages to maturity, but they have remained essentially babies in what they expect of life.  They have a distorted conception of their own lives in particular and of life in general.

A Mini Examen

The prayer of examen is an old way of praying through the movements of days.  It involves taking a few deep breaths, thinking about what happened in the day, noticing where God felt especially close and especially far, and remembering the feelings that came along through the day.

It’s a way of praying that can be done for chunks of time, like a week or a month or even a year.  Many people pray this prayer daily, building a life of mini examens.  Over time those little prayers–noticing God here and not there, re-feeling things that we misplaced somewhere else–become a way of determining what really gives us life.  They become a way for us to see the doors we need to push closed and the ones we must hurry through.