Updated: January 23, 2012 4:13AM
Character is a powerful word that describes something we all have. The simple definition of character is “the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing.” Character also speaks to our morals and ethics. Sometimes it is easy to forget that morals and ethics are either good or bad, but we all have them in some form.
Most of us would be truthful in admitting we vacillate between the good and the bad, depending on the circumstances. I would like to believe that my character at all times demonstrates perfect consistency on the side of good, but that would not be an honest assessment of my life. However, I do know my labor is to demonstrate high moral and ethical behavior, and I commit myself to this end.
The question of character is most visible during times of stress and difficulty. For example, remember when you failed to study for that test in school because you wanted to go on a date or hang out with friends? It was so easy to copy your fellow student’s answers, but in doing so you cheated yourself and demonstrated poor character. I am sure this only applies to a few of us, but the point is that stressful circumstances, whether created by our doing or external forces, can test the fiber and fabric of our character.
Such must have been the case of the person or persons who vandalized our church building this week. Apparently, the tapestry of their moral fiber does not include “you shall not steal,” which is pretty high on the list of the big Ten Commandments.
I must admit that my first reaction to the news of the vandalism was a heavy heart. I wondered why God would allow us to experience such difficulty when we already faced numerous struggles in our efforts to minister to those in need. In addition, my mind tried to reconcile the pathos of a person who could rob a church. What kind of person does this? I even asked myself if my public views on some issues invited such an attack.
Thankfully, I remembered the reason for the gospel of Christ. The purpose of the good news is to transform people just like the one or ones who damaged our church building. I believe the calling and essence of Christianity is to be a vessel of God’s mercy and grace in the world. It was then when I began to pray for the person or persons responsible for the vandalism. I realized that harm to the church building could not harm the church, which lives in me and all believers.
But this story is not about me or my reaction to difficulty per se. It is more about us all. How do we respond to the pressure of living in a time of great economic challenge, spiritual decay and emerging chaos in our country and world? There is little doubt that if I could ask those guilty of damaging our building, they might give as an excuse for their behavior the difficulties they face in life. They might tell me of how they had no money and felt that vandalism was a means to release the pressures of internal frustration. They might even express anger at what the Christian house of worship represents; perhaps even a desire for revenge for being hurt in a church.
Whatever the excuse given, it would not satisfy the need to find a better and more productive means by which to handle difficulty. We all face difficulty yet we do not all choose to respond by means hurtful to others and ultimately destructive to ourselves. How do people facing similar difficulties maintain good character in their response to difficulty?
It is my belief that in order to maintain good character and integrity in the face of great difficulty we must emphatically commit ourselves to living by principles and not emotion. If I live by my feelings, at any given time they may have led me to make some dumb decisions. However, if I commit to positive principles, then even in the face of difficulty, I am able to maintain my faith in what is right and not choose what is simply expedient.
There is no doubt that the choice to maintain our integrity and commitment to positive principles in the face of great hardship is a difficult decision. However, the decision to live life solely on the roller coaster of your feelings is truly counterproductive and self-destructive.
I am grateful for this circumstance in my life and the life of our church family because these trials help to build character in us. Through difficulty we have the opportunity to learn the importance of maintaining our commitment to our faith and positive beliefs. This is not an easy lesson, but it is a lesson necessary for a mature and well-rounded life. There is wisdom in the saying, “Tough times make tough people.” Remember, life is not about what happens to you, but it is all about how you respond.