character is not a competition


“I’m not talking to your brother right now, I’m talking to you!”

These were some of my least favourite words when getting disciplined as a child. If I’d been fighting with one of my brothers or together we had done the wrong thing, my Mum would send each of us to our room to think about what we’d done. When she came in to talk to me I was always ready to tell her how the actions of a brother had led to my behaviour. And she would shut that down – you always have a choice, your actions were either right or wrong, this is not about your brother it’s about you. 

Character is not a competition. 

She was right. My brother’s selfishness didn’t excuse my own. Their dishonesty didn’t justify mine. Their poor management of their anger or frustration didn’t relieve me of the need to be patient or tolerant. 

Character is not a competition. 

Your character is about YOUR honesty, generosity, integrity, reliability, graciousness, humility, strength, compassion, genuineness, service, respect and patience. It is not being ‘more honest’ than the next guy or ‘more generous’ than another. Your character is about you. It’s about who you are in your unchecked self, when no one is looking; when there’s nothing to be gained as much as it is revealed in your responses to adversity, disappointment or stress.

When your character is questioned it is never a suitable defence to compare yourself to another. That can be an exceptionally low bar. Prisons are full of people who demonstrated blatant disrespect for the law and for others – they don’t become the new standard for our behaviour! Sexual misconduct isn’t minimised by comparing it to a rapist. Dishonesty isn’t made okay because ‘at least you didn’t embezzle millions of dollars’. You will always find someone whose actions are worse than yours but that doesn’t make yours better. 

Character is not a competition – it’s a continual striving to be humble and teachable to have who we are refined. To be constantly becoming more of who we could be – increasing in reliability, compassion, other’s focus, tolerance and forgiveness. A mark of poor character is a person who will point to the actions or attitudes of others as a means of deflecting the focus or requirement from themselves. 

Hear my mum’s words “I’m not talking to them right now, I’m talking to you!”

Why we do what we do …

The most powerful driving force in our lives, what motivates us more than anything else, is our need for love. We are all addicted to love. Our greatest needs (beyond the physical stuff required to sustain life) centre around love; our need for value and acceptance and to know a sense of inclusion and belonging. Fundamentally, everything we do comes out of this core need. We may all express it in different ways, but at the heart of us all is an overwhelming yearning for love.

The reason we are all the same in this is because that’s how God created us! He made us to experience and enjoy intimate relationship with Him that would be fuelled and secured by the most incredible love. Where our value, belonging, sense of self, position and purpose would all be found in relationship with Him and in light of all HE is.

The problem came, way back in the garden, when ‘we’ turned our back on God and made it impossible to be in intimate relationship with Him.  The incredible gift of Jesus to us made it possible to be restored – but the reality of our brokenness and fallenness is we don’t experience the fullness of this relationship on earth as it will be in Heaven.

So we go looking to fill the void that is left. In varying degrees we find ourselves filled with God’s love, satisfied in His heart and thoughts towards us and the Spirit’s presence in our lives. But there is a shortfall.

While we are all the same in that we each HAVE a “Love Void” – we are also each unique in how it is shaped, how it will manifest and where we will look to fill it.

This is shaped by so many different factors: age, gender, life experiences (positive & negative), upbringing, intellectual and emotional development/capacity, country and culture, health status, spiritual life and experience … so many things that impact how our Love Void presents in our lives.

EXPERIENCES – FEELINGS – BEHAVIOURS

All of our life choices, our behaviours, attitudes and responses follow this similar pattern. Something happens – an ‘experience’ – that could be positive or negative, helpful or harmful … and it will illicit an emotional response – a ‘feeling’ – happy, sad, rejected, affirmed etc (again, all unique to us – the same experience can result in varied emotional responses for different people) … and this shapes our behaviour.

For example, we experience the loss of a friend (for any reason – death, falling out, moving away etc) which causes feelings of grief and loss, sadness and loneliness which leads us to behavedifferently as a result. We might become more guarded, less likely to open up to a new friendship. We might become more clingy and needy or more protective and cautious. We might become more thankful and celebrate life more in light of an increased knowledge of how fleeting it can be.

EVERY behaviour is borne of a feeling which is informed by an experience – inclusive of our ‘experience’ of God. How we do relationships, the lifestyle choices we make, how we spend our money, how we approach study and success, how we engage in faith and church life, where we work, where and how we live … all of these things are behaviours that are fuelled by feelings which are sparked by experiences. And in the engine room, the mechanism that is generating all of the motivation and activity, is our need for love.

God invites us to draw from Him, to gain our sense of self, value, acceptance, belonging and love in Him. He is unchanging, His heart towards us is love, and He is faithful. By His Spirit He works with us to refine and mature us and to use all of our experiences for our good and His glory.

Why we wait.

It’s a sentiment oft repeated – we live in a fast-paced world!

Emerging generations are born into a culture where everything is instant and waiting – for anything – is considered passé. Fast food, fast information, instant communication, a rapidly mobile people in a shrinking world … you’ve heard and seen it all and are probably fully immersed in it with the gadgets you own, the service you expect and the pace of life you live.

When it comes to our children and teenagers, more and more we are seeing the impact of a diminished capacity for waiting.

We cringe to hear the stories of pregnant 13 year olds and sexually active ‘tweens’; we are horrified by the teen who crashes a stolen car and is found to be under the influence of alcohol; drug dealing and addicted teenagers; the suicidal girls caught in cyber bullying or sexual coercion; the body image obsessed children ‘dieting’ at 5. These stories confront us for many reasons, but perhaps the thing we bemoan the most is the loss of childhood innocence – “they’re growing up too fast”.

It is a challenge of modern day parenting to make the strong stand necessary to keep our kids kids. Everything in our culture comes against that notion and we can be easily swept into believing that because it’s considered “normal” or because it is happening at all then it mustn’t be bad. No one wants to be that cranky old fuddy duddy who starts sentences with “in my day” (to the obligatory eye roll of all younger generations present) or to act in the role of “fun police” where your primary goal in life is to make your children miserable.

Here’s the reality though. Research indicates that the earlier children are exposed to more ‘at risk’ behaviours the greater their risk of addiction or abuse in that area as an adult. This is true for alcohol – the age of a youth’s first sip directly correlates with the likelihood they will handle it inappropriately (addiction/abuse) as an adult. (Yes, that does fly in the face of the old adage that giving alcohol to young people in a controlled environment may lessen their chance of bingeing on it once they’re of age.) Early exposure to sexualised imagery and language increases the likelihood of pornography addiction and sexual obsession or dysfunction as a child ages. (The average age for a first viewing of porn is 11.)

There’s a plethora of reasons we need to return to the virtue of patience and it behoves us as adults to actively seek ways and opportunities to help our children learn the art of waiting. Age restrictions on things such as movies, alcohol, riding on footpaths, video games and requiring adult supervision exist on purpose. There are realities about a developing brain that societal shifts and cultural advancement cannot change but that can be dramatically impacted by the things our children are exposed to.

The long term gain for waiting is unable to be measured, the consequences for not waiting in some cases cannot be overstated – with this in mind the short term cost of a complaining child or being the ‘only one’ rejecting the status quo might not seem such a high price to pay.