Thursday, April 11, 2013

Defining good character

This is a word you see thrown around a lot in Christian circles. "Character". It's all about the "character" of God, what sort of character we should look for in a spouse, etc. But what does the term actually mean? How do you define if someone has good character or not and what kind of people are the ones who have good character?

I believe a person's character is defined by the heart attitudes and belief systems they hold onto which surpass absolutely everything else in their lives. Despite whatever spiritual and emotional issues they may be facing - their character overrides that.

People with good character are not necessarily completely emotionally healthy, fully functional people. They can still have deep emotional wounds that they haven't faced yet, perhaps because they aren't ready to face them at that time. People with good character can still be prone to explosive incidents where they make mistakes and get things terribly wrong. But their real character overrides that - because it's defined by what they do with the mistakes that they have made.

Trials and tribulations are designed to rock our human lives to the core so that we face who we are as human beings and are given an opportunity to face and change the darker parts of our lives. The deepest issues in our lives can never be exposed unless our world is shaken to the core, and that shaking process can be both violent and terrifying. Even the most spiritually and emotionally aware human being who already has a good strong knowledge of themselves and their own emotional make up can find themselves in very darkened places within their own hearts thanks to the shaking happening in their circumstances - and that's exactly how it's meant to be.

Character is defined by how we respond to this shaking and how we respond to the ugliness that's revealed within ourselves when the darkest parts of our own hearts are revealed to us. A person with good character may have found themselves overreacting thanks to a situation that they'd never faced before which brought up something within their own lives that they needed to address. They perhaps weren't able to address it right in the heat of the moment and overreacted. Which is common. However, their character is defined as to how they respond to their overreaction. Do they shirk blame and responsibility, blame others for the state of their own hearts and walk away ignoring this opportunity for personal growth due to being blinded by their own pride, or do they use it as an opportunity to better themselves by learning to look within and ask God to help identify the emotional driving forces that pushed them to this point so that they can work through them and be healed of them? When confronted with their own sin, do they own up and take responsibility (regardless of who is confronting them about their sin) or do they knowingly and willingly defend doing what they know is wrong? To respond in the first manner shows poor, undeveloped character. To respond in the second way shows good character.

The next definition of character is what happens from that point on. Do those who have done wrong learn from their mistakes, heal themselves of the pain that surfaced when their life is shaken and automatically respond better next time, or do they apologize and give the illusion of having changed yet just continue to make the same mistakes all over again and respond the exact same way when next faced with that obstacle (which they'll undoubtedly face once again if they haven't fully worked through it)? This is something that in a lot of ways can only really be observed over time. It's easy to give the appearance of having made significant change in one's life but appearances can be deceiving at times. Once push comes to shove again, you'll see what they are really made of and if they've changed at all.

Everyone is at different stages along this journey. Some are further along than others. I would like to believe that my character is defined by the continual desire to become a stronger, healthier, more well adjusted person. I've learned how to take good things out of hard times and I've certainly faced some times over the past few years that have pushed me well out of what I believed I was capable of coping with at the time and into some dark, terrifying emotional landscapes in my own heart. Sometimes I've reacted badly. Does this make me a bad person and does this cause me to have bad character? I don't believe it does. For the simple reason that despite all these experiences where I know I've made mistakes, I've learned a great deal about myself and become much stronger and healthier as a result. Those who know me well and have observed me over time have noticed a drastic change over the past few years. I could easily have decided to sit and sulk in my misery but I made the effort to improve myself, and I believe that effort is showing. I've made mistakes, and those mistakes have had consequences. But they don't change who I am as a person.

I have also had to make choices to remove people from my life for the way that the place that they are in currently in regards to their journey has affected me and in some cases, hurt me very deeply. People immediately say "you shouldn't judge". I believe you can't judge a person's heart. But you can judge their actions and when people are deliberately defending wrongdoing in their own lives which is hurting other people, I feel I am quite within my rights to make the choice to remove them. I can't judge what is happening in their hearts. That's not my place. But what I can do is say to myself that "I don't believe it's beneficial for me or this person if we remain in each other's lives. Their character has proven that they may do this to me again and they also need to face some consequences for their actions". Which I think is a fair point. God forgives us our sins. But there's still consequences for the wrong we've done and sometimes those consequences are irreversible. I know I've done some things in the past with irreversible consequences to friendships and relationships. I've learned from them and grown as a result. But the consequences remain.

I guess my point is that we need to be very careful whom we allow closely into our hearts and before we go off crying out to God for a spouse or anything like that, we need to make sure our own character is in a place of being ready for it and being able to handle it. I believe that God knows our hearts and our lives better than we do. He is capable of bringing the right people into our lives at the right time - people of character. But we must have good character ourselves first. Developing good character is a messy and painful process. It can take years before any change is seen. But it's necessary if we want to live healthy emotional lives and want to truly be able to better ourselves as people and make the world a better place.

Take care.

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