Over the past twenty-four years I have observed many students who graduated from Christian schools and homeschools yet still lack the confidence, purpose, and skill to follow their dreams. In fact, rarely do they even dream about their God-given destiny. As a young college student, I changed my major numerous times. During that very critical time in my life, I lacked both direction and character--the two important elements that awaken a person’s drive to become all that God intended him to be. Contrary to popular opinion, this kind of character is not determined by one’s actions, but by one’s values. Focusing and modifying a child’s actions apart from their values leads only to hypocrisy, distorts reality, and clouds one’s judgment for a life’s calling. One of the least understood concepts in life is the connection between inner character and the development of skills to pursue one’s purpose in life. Inner character, skill, and purpose are the driving mechanisms behind true greatness. If what I am saying is true, then the development of one’s character is the foundation for life, assuming, of course, that one has a real relationship with the God who created him with a designed purpose.
Character is formed, or rather forged, on the anvil of life. I can distinctly remember an event which genuinely forged my character in the area of work ethic. I was twelve years old, and we needed a new sewer line for our house. Rather than digging up our newly paved driveway, my father decided that a trench could be dug under a thirty-foot-long concrete patio, thus redirecting the sewer line. My dad was an iron worker, and since this was his busiest time of the year, he asked me if I would dig this trench before he came home next week. With a smile, he assured me that it could be done, “one shovelful at a time.” Immediately I began to plan how this could best be accomplished, or rather, how I could do the job with the least amount of work. I remember thinking that there must be a machine that could burrow under this patio and with the press of a button—presto! Finisio! Because I feared my dad, I didn’t dare refuse this task; but I knew that Mom would come to my rescue when she saw the hardship that had been placed on her only son. I really had no intention of digging this trench knowing that it was an impossible task; if I complained and held out long enough, Dad would surely come to his senses. Two days before his arrival, I hadn’t found any solution to my dilemma, and Mom wasn’t ‘cooperating’! In fact, she kept reminding me when Dad would be home.
I remember this as if it were yesterday. Just a few hours before Dad came home, I began digging into the solid clay (it seemed like clay). I dug one foot under the patio and knew that this was impossible and impractical. Surely Dad would understand. Well, Dad didn’t understand! In fact, as soon as he came home, he went out to inspect my work. Without saying a word, he began digging. “What’s wrong with him?” I thought to myself. “Go ahead and dig, you’ll see!” But the dirt was flying and Dad was digging. He had worked hard all week while I worked hard trying to figure out how to get out of work. After about twenty minutes I couldn’t take it anymore. I went out, took the shovel out of his hand and began digging. Again, he reminded me that if you persevere and don’t give up, you can accomplish anything.
It was one o’clock in the morning, but I did it! That entire time my dad was watching from the bedroom window, and when he saw me break through there was a grand applause of royal encouragement. I will never forget that moment. In fact, something happened to me that day that has remained with me ever since. Part of my character was forged that day and to this day has been an essential component to my life. That experience fortified my determination to accomplish whatever task God calls me to, no matter how difficult or impossible it may seem. In fact, I believe that those six hours spent under a patio prepared me to do what I’m doing today. You see, “the testing of our faith works endurance. But let endurance have its perfect work...that you might be perfect and entire, lacking nothing.”
Do you see the spiritual significance of enduring difficult tests? It is significant because when we endure, there is a “work” that is being accomplished—the work of forging our character which prepares us to be complete (perfect), lacking in nothing. Now that’s one reward worth pursuing. And there should be a reward. Our children need to learn that God gives special rewards that are the result of forged character. Forged character prepares us for our future, and galvanizes our determination to accomplish any task. “See a man diligent in his work? He shall stand before kings…” The Hebrew word for “work” carries the meaning of “polished.” When our work reaches a level of excellence—a polished work—we will receive our greatest fulfillment, reach our highest goals, and truly represent our Father as we should as a son or daughter of a King!
Though it is true that children need to learn that endurance forges character, prepares for life, and propels one to persevere, there is also a danger that must be addressed. The danger that I speak of is the root cause of many fallen leaders—pride. From our examples, our children must understand that the character traits of endurance, perseverance, and determination leading to great accomplishments cannot bring true fulfillment apart from humility. There is something very appealing about a diligent, skillful worker who is smiling, appreciative, and thankful. Without humility, determination will lead to accomplishments void of relationships. Humility is the recognition that all of my abilities and opportunities are gifts from God. Humility is portrayed in an attitude of thankfulness even for difficulties, with the realization that this, too, is a gift of God.
May the qualities of inner character, skillfulness, and humility unlock the door to a prepared, purposeful, and powerful future.
Mark Hamby is the President of Lamplighter Publishing. Their latest resource for parents is "Character to the Core". Take a look! You can pick a character trait to learn about... and also get a great corresponding list of recommended books.