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Is it rejection if someone says they see a need for character development in you? Are they rejecting you? Is your character “you”? What about your personality? Is THAT “you”? What’s the difference between character and personality? Which one is most important to God?

What is personality?

Personality is different for everyone. Are you outgoing or introverted? Are you artsy or comedic or stoic? Those are all personality traits. Personality makes you “you” and different from everyone else. Personality varies from person to person. It’s subjective. But it’s hard wired into you. Babies show their personalities from the earliest moments of their lives. Some are quiet, easygoing, restive. Others are loud, boisterous, and restless. These are personality traits, seen in the first days after birth. Baby number one may be more convenient for mom, but he’s not “good” while the other baby is “bad”.

We parents often make the mistake of confusing personality with character right here at the start, and begin to try to “form” the personality into that which we like. The “fun-loving” parents prod and push the sober kid. The sober, quiet parents sit on and squelch the outgoing kid.

What is character?

Character, unlike personality, is objective, timeless, and universally the same for all people. Honesty, thoughtfulness, responsibility, courage, loyalty… these are all character traits. They can be defined as right or wrong. And they can be taught. Babies don’t have character, or rather, they have only one character trait, because of Adam: selfishness. And we universally agree that selfishness is wrong.

So, how do personality and character play out in life? Well, you can find someone to be great fun (personality), but still not like being around them, because you can’t trust them (character).

Why the confusion?

Part of the confusion about what part of our makeup is inborn (personality) and what part is inbred (character) comes from the secular world of psychology and psychiatry.

So-called “personality disorders” are all too often “character disorders”.

For instance, ALL children are born attention deficit. Like the child at school who can’t stay focused on the teacher because there’s a fly on the screen, or they’re thinking about what’s for lunch, the baby is born easily distracted. His hand suddenly flies in front of his 3 week old face and he is temporarily distracted from screaming for food. We are actually GLAD for his distractibility and “attention deficit” at this age. We rattle a set of “baby keys” to distract the year old who wants to be picked up at an inconvenient time for us. In fact, toys and TV are used by parents to capture the focus of a child and put it on a momentary diversion while we clean, or cook, or whatever.

Likewise, all children are born with “oppositional defiance disorder” (ODD). They want what THEY want, NOW. And they are oppositional to us. They are defiant to the parent. “I hate you” is TOO common for it to be a “disorder” of any type. The word “disorder” implies something is not normal. But normal is what is common (by definition). If something is very common, then it is not a “disorder”.

And certainly every child is born with “narcissistic personality disorder”. The infant doesn’t think about anyone but himself, his wet diaper, his empty stomach, his loneliness. He doesn’t care, or care to know, that Mommy didn’t have a good night’s sleep, Daddy just lost his job, or whatever. He and his wants and needs are all he thinks about. Of course, this is to be expected in an infant, because he doesn’t yet have the cognitive ability to think of another’s needs.

The attention deficit child, defiant or narcissistic child may be bubbly, may be funny, may be artistic. All of these are personality traits. They have character disorders, not personality disorders.

So, what makes the attention deficit child pay attention? What makes the defiant child compliant? What makes the narcissistic child consider another person’s needs or wants?

Pain. And it’s true of the adult too.

Personality and Character in the Kingdom of God

And how do personality and character play out in being used by the Lord?

God created our personalities, and when He uses us, He uses us with our personalities intact. It’s easy to see God using the personality of the folks He chose to write the books of the Bible. Paul was sober, but Peter was more “out there”. Jeremiah was melancholy; David was artsy; James was fiery.

But until Peter got ahold of his impetuosity some, God wasn’t able to use him as much. For impulsiveness is a character trait, not a personality trait. Impulsiveness is what got Eve into trouble. It’s acting without thinking. That’s a character trait.

When parents, or even a child themselves, confuse personality with character, the results are not good. They try to change what cannot be changed without a sense of rejection on the kids’ part (personality), but they don’t work at changing what can be changed (character is “formed”; personality has “traits”). They leave thoughtlessness intact in the little soul, but try to change extroversion into introversion. This is what happens in conservative Christian families that try to make all their daughters into quiet little demure princesses, instead of letting them be the leader they were created to be. This happens in other families when Dad pushes his studious son to be a jock, etc.

Do the parents tell the child to pick up his room? They are asking for him to be orderly (a character trait). But you can’t tell a person to have character (character is taught, not told).

And parents aren’t the only ones that confuse personality and character, to their child’s hurt. The child himself does that, often learning to do it by the things he hears his parents say about themselves or others.

For instance, when the child says that he’s a “messy” and that that’s “just the way I am”, he confuses personality (which is “just the way we are”) with character. He excuses his poor character with a falsehood, with “that’s just me”.

What God Wants to Develop in Us is Character

2Pe 1:5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
2Pe 1:6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
2Pe 1:7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.

Giving means, introduce alongside. All diligence means with every speed, with earnestness and eagerness. So “giving all diligence” means that at the same time as you first believe, introduce the following character traits along with that newfound faith.

Those character traits are these:
Virtue, which means manliness, or valor. It’s a strength of will to do what is right when it’s hard. Valor and manliness is what men at war have, when they choose to do what is praiseworthy (the Greek word is translated “praises” at one point in the Bible), instead of what is easy. We show valor, or virtue as translated in the KJV, when we stick with the Christian life and way, even when it’s hard.

Knowledge is just that. It refers to knowledge of God and the things of God. As adults, even unsaved adults, we already have all sorts of knowledge. But as new Christians, we don’t have much knowledge of God or His ways. So we’re to add the character trait of pursuing knowledge of God.

Temperance is self-control. No one is born with that. As babies, we screamed as soon as we were wet, bored, lonely, a little hungry. Potty training is proof that self-control is a learned character trait. It must be taught, and we must put ourselves to learning it.

Patience is waiting, enduring with hope. In the Christian world it’s seen in us patiently waiting for the work of the Lord in another, flawed believer. It’s patiently (with hope) waiting for the answers to our prayers for ourselves and others.

Godliness is a learned character trait too. It’s holiness, or “god-like-ness”. (The -li- in the word godliness is a shortened form of the adjectival suffix “like”.) No child, biological or spiritual, has godliness in his “personality”. It’s a character trait that must be learned.

Brotherly kindness, or fraternal affection, seems like something that we all have intrinsically, for don’t we all love our families? But the automaticity of sibling fighting and rivalry should be a clue to us that brotherly kindness must be learned. Of course, the reference here is to brotherly kindness within the body of Christ, and God certainly wants us to cultivate that in our character makeup.

Finally, charity, or self-sacrificial love to all, is NEVER found in a “personality” naturally. Children never have it, except where it’s been taught.

So which matters to God most, character or personality?

First, to clarify, I believe the purpose of our lives is two-fold, regardless of what our life circumstances are like. First, we all have the purpose of being ministers of reconciliation, to the lost, and to the saved: the former to Christ for an initial encounter, and the latter to Christ in daily exhortation, encouragement, etc. And our second purpose in life is to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ ourselves. So the two purposes for our lives are to grow, and help others to grow.

Having said that, which does God want to use more for these stated purposes, our character or our personality? The answer is “all of the above”.

When we accidentally squelch our children’s personalities, by trying to mold them into another personality, we damage the vessel God intended to use. Can He still use it? Of course. But if He created a child with a high sense of humor, or a quick wit, or great intellect, or a preference for things physical over things esoteric, then He created that person the way He wanted them to be. The way He intended to use them.

But when we unwittingly leave untouched the selfish characteristics of our child, in any arena of life, thinking that it’s just a “stage of development” (another popular psychological buzzword) that they will somehow “grow out of”, we bring to adulthood a vessel whose character God must now re-mold before He can fully use that vessel.

What of the adult?

So what of the adult, whose parents tried to shoehorn them into another personality mold? Or whose parents didn’t care to, or know how to, mold their character for good?

If they are unsaved, they can, and do, try to get their personality back in line with how it was created to be, by lying on a psychiatrist’s couch for $100 a visit every week for the rest of their lives. Or taking Prozac for the anxiety that is the natural result of trying to be who you are not, to please those who think you should be something other than what God made you to be. And the unsaved can, and do, try to get their character in line with what will make them more effective in life, by reading Tony Robbins or other self-help gurus. But to what purpose? Selfishness usually lies at the root of character self-help efforts, for the unsaved don’t have a reason to be a useable vessel by Another.

But what of the saved adult? How does he get his personality back in line with how God created it to be? And how does he develop the character that he doesn’t have the character to develop? How does he make that list in 2 Peter happen?
He relies on God to be the re-maker of his personality, and to be the shaper of his character. And God is more than willing to do it. But the vessel must be a willing vessel.

And that means the vessel must be willing to hear of the need for change. Must be willing to delve into the pains that have stifled his personality. Must be willing to hear from others about his weaknesses of character.

And this is where the first questions I asked at the beginning come in.

Is it rejection when one brother says to another, “I see selfishness in your life with your wife”? Is it rejection when one sister says to another, “I struggle to not gossip in your presence, because all our conversations seem to go there”? Is it rejection when a parent says to their adult child, “I noticed you were inconsiderate that girl who is not your favorite friend”?

It can be. There ARE the “discerners” of the Christian community who think criticism is the “gift” God gave them for use on the body. They are serial rejecters, rejecting everyone in the name of the Lord. Ugh. These people are rarely used of the Lord, despite their belief to the contrary. But they are often used of the devil.

But when next someone tells you a hard-to-hear thing about yourself, ask yourself if that person is normally a rejecter of you or others. Is this a person who loves me? Is this a person who helps me when I’m having trouble in my life? Is this a person who has a pattern of kindness (“pattern” being the operative word here, since no-one is flawlessly, perpetually kind)?

These are the folks God wants to use in your life to help remake your crushed personality, or to mold your flawed character. They may tell you in flawed ways (they are flesh, after all), but God is forced to use flawed vessels to help flawed vessels. (He doesn’t have any other inventory.)

So, take what seems like rejection, and ask yourself if it’s said by a person who you know loves you, however feebly, and who loves the Lord, also however feebly. Then take it to God and ask Him to use it to “re-mold me, make me, like Thee divine”. But be careful you don’t take it to the devil. You’ll know the difference by whether it gives you hope to know this thing about yourself (“thank you Jesus for showing me a new area You’re going to fix”), or whether it makes you fearful, ashamed, depressed. God’s “training pain” always ends in hope.

And if ever I should tell you a thing you find hard to hear, know that I love you. 🙂 I will try to hear it from you with that in mind, too. 🙂

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For the last two years, the rainy spring has lingered on into the normal planting time, and we’ve taken to covering the garden with black plastic, trying to keep it from getting more water-logged. And hey! added bonus! All the garden books and blogs say black plastic mulch will warm the soil sooner, and kill the weeds, because they’ll be starved for light.

But both last year and this year, each time we’ve pulled the plastic back, those supposedly dead weeds sprang back to life licketysplit.

This seems metaphoric for how some folks try to get those oh-so-elusive “good kids” I talked about in my last post: cover them up before any “bad” gets in them.

You see this in some home school circles, and in some conservative Christian circles (and in Muslim culture too, I might add). “We don’t let our children spend the night.” “We don’t let our children go to camp.” “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, and the companion of fools will be destroyed, so we don’t let our children play with other children unless we are right there.” “Facebook is just hanging out with other children, so no facebook for my child.”

The thinking goes something like this: “if I can keep my child from negative peer pressure, exposing them to only the things and people of the Lord, then the sinful nature of those others won’t rub off on my child. They won’t pick up how to curse, or a desire for bad music or bad companions, etc., if they are kept from the bad peer influence of others.”

This covering them up can get extreme: the head/face/body of the girl must be covered to keep boys from sinning. And it can last a long time. No boy-girl interaction after puberty until they are marriageable age. No driving until they are 18, or 21. It’s like leaving the black plastic on the garden for months, in the hope that those persistent weeds will have finally succumbed, and will give us a totally weed-free head start on the season.

I live very near Amish country, and several times a year I go out there to buy cheese, bulk herbs, and other items. On the way there, I pass under a few covered bridges, and pass over a few uncovered bridges. The only folks out that way are pretty much all Amish. They have their own school, their own smith, their own ironworks, and these folks, and especially their children, rarely leave the area. But in painted graffiti on and inside the bridges, you see “POOP”, “HECK” and other such mild (to our ears) euphemistic words scrawled in childish handwriting. These are the words that are considered “naughty” on the playgrounds of Amish schoolyards. And little Amish children, well-covered and protected from “English” sinners, manage to grow into vandals anyway.

How? The weeds of sin were sown in them in the Garden by their forefather, Adam.

The weeds of sin in our children are not planted by other people. They are there from birth, and will grow, unaided, even if no one else is in their life. No matter how long we leave the black plastic of “protection” over our children, the weeds of sin just pop right up again, and sometimes with even more vigor than before.

In my own (non-Amish) experience, I have certainly seen more than one young person explode in sin “weeds” soon after the plastic was drawn back. They get their first job, and are quickly smoking cigarettes or pot with the co-workers. They go off to college, and are soon spending as much time “hooking up” or with a hangover as their friends in whom the weeds were left to grow unimpeded. Some “outside” boy notices them at the park, the store, or even church, and before too long, they are climbing out the window at night to meet clandestinely.

The Amish Rumspringa is in essence a time for Amish youth to decide if they will go back under the black plastic, or live the “English” life of self-indulgence. There doesn’t seem to be a third choice, to teach our children to walk uncovered by the plastic, in trepidation before the Lord, looking to Him to provide their righteousness. The choice seems to be to teach them to gain the faux-righteousness of keeping away from other sinners, or out-right unrighteousness.

The root of the problem (pun intended) is that weeds need to be pulled, but instead are left in the ground because the gardeners (mom and dad) wrongly think that the weeds come from without, instead of from within.

There are no shortcuts to a productive garden. We have to do the hot, dirty work of pulling weeds.

More on that later, I think.

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How do kids grow to be “good”?

So many of them seem to be spoiled, the way an apple is spoiled: soft, wormy, and inedible. And the ratio seems to be escalating: so many more of the kids seen in public seem to be selfish, angry, demanding. And not just little ones. Ten year olds. Fifteen year olds.  Twenty year olds even.

All parents want “good” children. So how are some of us getting them, and some of us are not? And why do the numbers of the “spoiled” seem to be rising?

And what is “good” after all? It seems “bad” is easier to define. It’s certainly easier to spot. The child who is screaming on the floor of the cereal aisle “I hate you” certainly grabs our attention more than the one who quietly goes along with mom in the grocery store. Maybe the “good” child was just too tired to be “bad” today. Maybe they are developmentally too delayed to act out in this manner. Whatever it is, we tend to not even notice those “good” ones. But we sure notice the bad ones.

So, how did they get there? Are some just “destined” to be bad, and others just “destined” to be good? This seems to suggest a sort of Calvinist  method of child training, “just leave them alone, and they’ll come home, wagging their tails behind them”.

But, certainly the teaching of the Word belies this itself. All are born evil. All. Children don’t grow into “good” adults by some metaphysical chance. Left alone, they turn selfish, brutal, barbaric. That’s why The Lord of the Flies rings so depressingly true to our ears. And we’re certainly seeing more of those traits in the young of America today.

No, all are born evil, with the guarantee that, unattended, they will grow into “bad” children. No-one has to teach kids to be bad. They come to it very naturally. What parent teaches their first born to lie? To be sneaky? To arch their back and scream when they want to get down at 8 months old, or to scream “I hate you” when they want Fruit Loops at 3 years old, or to invite their friends over for a drug and drinking party at 15, when their parents go away for a weekend celebration of their 25th anniversary?

And that is the crux of the matter, I think. All are born with seeds of sin. And those seeds naturally grow into weeds: strong, resistant to pulling, and deep rooted.

No, weeds never “just go away” by ignoring them. That’s why the “leave em alone” method of training ALWAYS results in a “soft, wormy and inedible”  result. The vegetable garden is certainly parabolic illustration of that. Just try “leaving the weeds alone” there for very long, and they will squeeze out the life of the vegetable plants! In the same way, “hands-off parenting” (the kind advocated by the “experts” all too often) does not produce the “good” kids that we’re all after.

So just how DO we get those “good” kids? Still mulling that over. More to come.

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