There has been some conversation lately in a group of moms who meet regularly to discuss the application of the principles and methods of Charlotte Mason. We are intrigued and exploring the idea of focusing on developing character versus concentrating on managing conduct. I am embarking on the task of looking this question in the eye and coming up with some tangible and practical ideas. This post will be the first in a series about character development in children.
So, how do we go about facilitating the development of a noble character within a child.
We are doing just that – at least influencing the development of a character – every day in our myriad of relational exchanges, in the ways we behave and in the things we value (really value).
Maybe we should look at what character really is before we try to develop it. In Greek a kharakter was a stamping tool, used to give something a distinctive mark. Character alludes to the essential quality of something. Herbert Spencer was noted to say,
“Education has for its object the formation of character.”
In this sense, Mr. Spencer was probably speaking more towards the issue of ethics and the fact that “good” or “moral” character would have distinguishing features which aligned with deep moral truths [Though he, himself was an agnostic, he held to universal moral principles]. And in his opinion, the natural consequences of life – completely unaltered for either lesser or greater impact – were the very tools of character development at every age and stage. Martin Luther King said he looked forward to the day when
“… all Americans would be judged solely by the content of their character.”
He was pointing beyond appearances and actions to the essence of a person. In the Bible we could think of the character as the “heart” as in “out of the mouth, the heart speaks.” It is the seat and source of action.
We Christians have a slightly different language when we speak of character. We can speak of the soul, which is differentiated from spirit in the Bible (as in where God says, “The Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any two edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit … it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”) The soul might be seen as the part of us created in the image of God – it is not subject to the vicissitudes that impact the spirit. God uses the words heart, spirit and will interchangeably in His Word. And into this sacred space we walk when we talk about “character development.” What we are really talking about is formation – being formed – and as in the stamping process implied by the Greek word kharakter, there are impressions being made upon hearts in our care and those impressions are formative.
God speaks about being noble or excellent and some translations of verses with those words include the word “character,” but in the original Hebrew, there was no such wording used. It is implied in the Hebrew phrasing that this nobility or excellence resided in a person’s mind or heart.
In the New Testament (Romans 5), God talks about character development along a continuum. He uses the word “dokimē” which means something proven through trial. And this progression of character development begins with the concept of glorying in our sufferings. Not in them alone, but in the fact that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance produces character; character produces hope; and that hope does not put us to shame (or deceive us so that we will be ashamed of having hoped in the first place); because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us: You see – at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly … but God demonstrates His own love for us in this. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Let’s unpack that section of Scripture and see how it relates to character development. First of all, the foundation is not our suffering, even though that is the first thing mentioned. The foundation, if we read further, is God’s love. God’s love starts the whole deal. Here we are sinners (bad conduct proceeding from bad character) and what does God do? He dies for us. He demonstrates His own love in that: the Cross – Himself in our place. And, as we accept that gift, His love is poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given us. There’s the love AGAIN: given to the powerless at just the right time. So, now we go through suffering of different kinds, and as we do, we “glory” in them. We boast and we rejoice, but not in THEM, those sufferings, but in the product they bring which is perseverance.
For character development we need that more than anything – inspired staying power to hold fast to what is good and true. And how do we get it? Perseverance only comes through experiencing suffering, (pressure, trials or burdens). But we surely each know many people who have suffering and are not producing perseverance or any good thing. They are like buildings without foundations. Don’t forget that the whole process is built upon love, fueled by love and comes to fruition in love. Without God and His love, suffering is useless and hopeless. So, we rejoice in our suffering and we get the tool of perseverance and that brings about another gift which is character. The heart is transformed into more of Christ’s likeness and we own something deep within ourselves which has been proven by trial. His love was proven by trial – on the Cross. And when we have that likeness of character, we have hope because we have weathered storms and held fast and what remains has proven worthy and we can put stock in it – in God’s love and the transformative effects it has in us. Not disappointing at all.
So we can see a little more clearly what a character is and where it resides within us (and within our children) and the process by which God has ordained for character development. We may ask now, “Well, what do we DO?” I mean, we have to DO something, right? It isn’t like this is all going to happen in a vacuum.
Well, hang in there, that will be the discussion of my next post …