Character is the quality of the response we have to people and circumstances. In Do Hard Things – Brett and Alex Harris talk about three things that they see as central to their message (indeed, they are central to any project or task we set out to achieve):
We see more often than not that it will be the character aspect that hinders progress. People have the ability, they have the vision, and they lack the character to carry it out. We do not want to miss the things that God has for us, nor do we want our children to miss the things that God has for them because they lack the character to represent him.
To this end we study character intentionally. We study the definitions of character and we study the idea of what that character trait would look like. We use character first as our main resource for this. But all the lessons you can take will not give your character in your life. Our lessons are simply information to help us understand what we are talking about. To help us to get a grip on what these words mean. Real character is developed by living life and putting our knowledge (of character) into practice. For example
I can teach my children five fantastic, exciting, hands on lessons about obedience. This will not make them obedient. It is as we live life together, it is as we take the understanding of obedience and start to put it into practice that we begin to see real character. It is as our children actually come when called, with a good attitude that we can say they are obedient. It is as they complete what we’ve asked them to do and do it without complaining that we can say they are obedient. Not until we put the lessons into regular practice can we say we have that character in our life.
I can teach my children the quality of hospitality. Once again we can do great lessons on what it means to be a friend, about recognising the needs of others, about setting the table and using our manners and even about cooking fantastic food. If that is all we do we are not practicing hospitality – we do not have that character trait in our life. It is not until we actually have to share our stuff, it is not until we go without because we have given to someone else, it is not until we step outside and meet other people’s needs that we begin to grow in the character trait of hospitality.
I can give my children all the head knowledge of determination: that they are not to give up, that they are to keep on trying. I can teach them about Edison and how many times he attempted to make the light bulb. But until I walk along side of my children in the things that they find hard, until they reach up and take my hand and try again, until they choose not to give up they won’t have the character trait of determination – it would just be head knowledge.
So it isn’t our lessons that develop character in our life, like I said, that is only information. Character is developed as we guard our reactions and instead respond. Character is developed by the choices that we make and each time we make a choice to respond like those lessons we took, that character trait is established a little bit stronger in our life and each time we make such a choice, each time we make a choice to respond out of love, to forgive, to be honest, to be punctual or orderly, each time we do that we are growing in character.