I bet you read the title and were expecting a post on how to develop character in children, huh? But it's not. Instead I want to talk about building character in us parents. It's something I've been thinking a lot about for various reasons. Because, even as adults, we can and should continue to work on developing positive, God-honoring, character traits. In fact, I would venture to say that raising children is one of God's most effective greenhouses for developing character.
There are so many ways that children help us adults to become more like Jesus and to develop the fruits of the Spirit: peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It's an excellent list of parenting skills, isn't it? I know I certainly do not live up to it... it is something I strive for. But here's my personal revelation: When I pray that these traits will be developed in me, that's not what I'm really praying for. What I really mean is that these traits will suddenly appear in me one morning and be a done deal. I want to avoid that word 'develop' and everything it entails. Develop implies a process; something that will slowly change over time with effort. To develop something means to work at it, practice it. To become patient, I must practice patience. God is faithful to my prayer and is helping me to develop patience... He gives me a multitude of opportunities every day (and sometimes every hour or every minute) to practice this trait I say I want to have. He asks me to practice what I need to work on just as I ask my children to practice what they need to work on.
Looking at it this way, helps me deal with the irritations of life. It's always better to think of something as an opportunity to practice what you're working on, than viewing it as yet another annoyance that just makes your life miserable. Isn't it? I also find it helpful when I parent my children and help them to develop good character traits. If the truth be told, as much as I want to wake up one morning and suddenly have infinite patience or self-control, I want it even more for my children. In fact on some level I think I expect that my excellent parenting (and if I was actually speaking to you, you would hear the tongue-in-cheek tone of that phrase) would cause my children to spontaneously be perfect.
A wise friend of mine, in speaking about a moral lapse of one of her children, said she was pleased that it happened, because it allowed her a chance to guide her child in a way that hadn't been present before. She saw it as an opportunity for growth instead of a parenting failure. Since I tend to jump to parenting failure-mode immediately, it was helpful to see it in a different light. And certainly, when I turn it around, I do not see my failures as God's responsibility. No, I get to claim those all for myself. But God doesn't give up on me, He continues to love me and continues opportunity for practice and success. I get to do things over and over and over. I think I'm making progress, even if it is in tiny little increments.