This post is continuing my character training series. Before we go on, I’d like to make my heart for this series clear. I know we mothers often have a hard enough time meeting basic needs, much less focusing on the larger and more grand personality priorities. I don’t sit around thinking of ways to bring these various character traits into our day, I simply internalise them and pray that I’ll be reminded later.
I think of it a little like memorizing and studying scripture. You probably don’t repeat tons of verses to yourself each day so that you’ll do what’s in them, and yet they often come to mind when relevant situations present themselves, don’t they? So, like that, I try to keep in mind how our current situations can be handled to best bring about strong characters in my children. And I’m sure, if you’re still here, that you do very much the same.
1. Strength of character.
I pray that my children will have strength of character. By strength of character I don’t mean hardened and jaded and bitter yet able to carry on. While life does sometimes throw things at us we simply are not able to process without help, I define strength of character differently. I want my children to know what they believe so they are able to stand up for it. I want them to be able to stand up for their convictions and values, even if it causes trouble. As teenagers, I want them to be strong enough to be able to say “no” to something or someone, even if it means they are left stranded somewhere and have to walk. I want them, throughout their childhood, to experience how good it feels to really believe in something and defend it. People of strong character are self-confident, less afraid, and more full of vision. Oh, and probably harder to parent…
2. Strength of spirit.
I pray every night that my children be strong in spirit. Not just strong in their own abilities (although there is surely a place for that), but strong because they know from where their help comes. Some days I wonder how I’ll ever raise children who love God, since I feel like such a bad example. On good days, I think that maybe God can use me. Jesus had enough strength to rise from the dead, and yet the strength was not His own. Spiritual strength is learning to trust, obey, love and receive discipline with joy.
3. Strength comes through trials.
No parent likes to see their children unhappy. In fact, many parents do everything they can to ensure their children are happy and yet – funnily enough – it has the opposite effect. Trouble, trials and challenges are life (and God’s) way of bringing out the steel inside. Can we continue when things are hard? Can we keep going when we just really want to stop and forget about it? Can we do what’s right even when it’s the hardest thing to do? By recognizing difficult situations in our children’s lives we’ll be able to help them push through and strengthen their character for the future.
4. Teaching children truths.
There is a certain strength and assurance that comes from knowledge. Sure, we’ll never know everything and the more we learn the more we realize we don’t know much, but teaching our children truths (even when they are hard) will help strengthen their characters. Obviously we must be sure we are teaching age appropriate things, but holding back too much common sense, wisdom and facts from our children will simply make them naive. And it will mean that they are introduced to various concepts, ideas and values from their peers or media at large. It’s a dangerous game letting someone else parent for you in the name of “letting children be children.” If your children ask why a certain classmate always appears dirty and is hungry, this may be a good time to explain how they are blessed and how sometimes others are not as fortunate. This would be an opportunity to teach kindness, acceptance and compassion. The truth is, our children are lucky. The truth is, it’s not that child’s fault he isn’t.
5. Strength isn’t always obvious.
Some of the strongest things we can do may even be perceived by the world as weak. It’s a lot easier to hide a problem and live in denial then humbly ask for help. However, asking for help is what will bring you back to a position of strength. It might be a lot easier to get into a fist fight than to walk away. I’ll go against the grain (don’t send me hate mail) and say I think some fist fights are probably okay, but I think it takes a special strength for a guy to “forfeit” the fight and walk away. The strength to know what to do is something we should teach our boys. Strength is not gossiping when others do. Strength is giving part of our time and money even when we’d often like to keep them. Will power and persistence and endurance mingle and become an inner strength.
I am often described as a strong person. I believe this is true, but I also know that while I outwardly appear strong, I am the first to admit where I fall dismally short. I’m not saying I don’t have integrity, I try my absolute best to be a transparent person and to make the same decisions alone that I’d make in a room with my pastor or my mom. But, before God, I see my own weaknesses. I see the habits and faults I have and I pray my children don’t learn them from me. I see how impatient I am, how I get neurotic over messes, and how my temper can snap when we least expect it.
With those weaknesses, I come before God and ask for help. I press on, I get back up, I apologize. I don’t pretend I’ve got it together when I’m falling apart and I don’t ever imagine that I have it more together than someone else. In fact, in the seasons where I’ve been the most weak and pathetic in my own eyes, many people commented on my strength. That is the mystery of strength. We must remember that building strength is a lifelong process and that, though we are weaker than those ahead of us, we are stronger than we used to be. Strength isn’t a destination, it’s a journey, and one we that our children will take with us if we’ll let them.