Becoming through the formation of character

“Character” is mainly about moral strength, or strength of will. It is more than just personality and social skills.

Our becoming is a life-long partnership with God.

God didn’t just bring the world into existence and then leave it to itself.

Every moment of its existence depends on God just as much as its first moment! It’s like that with our life as well: God journeys with us.

This is beautifully expressed in the psalms:

The Lord is my shepherd;
there is nothing I shall want.
Fresh and green are the pastures
where He gives me repose.

Near restful waters He leads me,
to restore my strength.
He guides me along the right path:
He is true to his name.

If I should walk in the valley of darkness,
no evil would I fear.
You are there with your crook and your staff;
with these you give me comfort…

Surely goodness and kindness
will follow me all the days of my life.
In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell
for ever and ever. (Psalm 23).

God is present to us in the world around us.

When we feel attracted to things that are good or right or true or beautiful, we are catching glimpses of what we are made for.

At the same time, we are intuiting the difference between being true to one’s self and being false to one’s self.

This is where “conscience” comes into the picture. Sometimes we choose against our better judgment, and then regret it.

Choosing what conscience tells us is right is not always easy.

It becomes easier with practice.

In fact, “virtue” is difficult choices made easier through practice. Character is formed over the long-haul.

The opposite to character formation is self-indulgence.

The slogan “everybody’s doing it” is an invitation to be like sheep.

Those who aren’t practised in self-restraint end up having less control over their own actions.

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of domestic violence. The quality of marriage and family life – and all that flows from it – depends on people being able to respect each other’s needs and not always insisting on getting their own way.

During our growing up years we can strengthen our self-restraint and self control by making small sacrifices – choosing to go without things that we could rightly choose to have or do.

Better still, of course, when the personal sacrifices we make are of the kind that benefit others in some way.

There will be times of turmoil and confusion, especially in times of transition. Experiencing other people’s love gives you the inner strength to see you through these times.

Sometimes their love comes in reassuring words, but mainly it comes in the sacrifices they have made for you – including sacrifices you know nothing about.

Parents’ love is like that.

Seeking companionship and face to face time with people is really important for the formation of character.

Social media and virtual reality (even granting their advantages) can isolate us from each other. Research confirms that they are creating a lot of loneliness.

The most important time with others is, of course, time with family. It forms bonds of love that support you even when nothing else can.

O Lord, you search me and you know me,
you know my resting and my rising,
you discern my purpose from afar,
you mark when I walk or lie down,
my ways lie open to you.

Before ever a word is on my tongue
you know it, O Lord, through and through.
Behind and before you besiege me,
your hand ever laid upon me.

Too wonderful to me, this knowledge,
too high, beyond my reach… …

O where can I go from your spirit,
or where can I flee from your face?
If I climb the heavens, you are there.
If I lie in the grave, you are there.

If I take the wings of the dawn
and dwell at the sea’s furthest end,
even there your hand would lead me,
your right hand would hold me fast.

If I say: “let the darkness hide me
and the light around me be night”,
even darkness is not dark for you
and the night is as clear as the day. (Ps 139:7-12)

God holding our hand is a beautiful and powerful image.

“You can pull, and God will come your way. But how exciting (and how much easier) if you do it the other way round”. (J. Tulloch, The Tablet, 9/2/19)

  • +Peter Cullinane was the first bishop of the Diocese of Palmerston North. Now retired he continues to be a respected writer and leader of retreats and is still busy at local, national, and international levels. Here he shares his reflections on sciences and Christian faith. To conclude the introduction of this series he quotes Albert Einstein, “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.”
  • This is the sixth in a series of chapters from his letter to senior students.
  • Image: Manawatu Standard

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