Mentoring

How to Change Your Character

Robyn Stauffer Skur

Around this time of the year, many people face their shortcomings and determine to conquer them. They make New Year's resolutions such as the following:

  • Control anger.
  • Stop overeating.
  • Stick to a budget.

Far too often, however, we give up on our resolutions because our efforts are derailed by something brewing deep within — something in our character that triggered the problem to begin with.

Anger, for example, may stem from not getting our way, which stems from self-centeredness.

The inability to budget money may trace back to discontentment and the quest to keep up with the Joneses.

Overeating probably has less to do with the allure of grandma's peanut butter balls and more to do with a lack of self-control or an unmet need for love.

Each of these is a character issue. Until we address these character issues head-on, a flawed character will derail our best intentions to deal with surface problems.

Our Responsibility to Change

As Christians, we can think, “I don't need to work on my character. When I placed my trust in Christ, He forgave all my sins. I just need to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit.”

God bears the responsibility to perfect the work He began in us, of course, but He does expect us to participate in the forming of our character.

 

"Applying all diligence," says 2 Peter 1:5-8 (New American Standard Bible), "in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, Christian love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

These elements of character grow best in an atmosphere that has three components: grace, truth and time.

In John 8, Jesus demonstrated grace (acceptance) to the woman trapped in adultery yet at the same time confronted her with truth (reality).

In Luke 13, the vineyard-keeper granted a fig tree more time to bear fruit before destroying it.

We, too, can incorporate grace, truth and time in our quest for growth.

1. Grace

To see our character develop, we need a connection with something or someone outside of ourselves — someone like God. When we bring our weaknesses to our Advocate, He promises not to berate us.

"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1, English Standard Version).

But the Lord also provides people to serve as His delegates. According to author Henry Cloud in “Changes That Heal,” trying to go it alone is like cutting off the hand of God, who wants to comfort the empty by sending His Spirit to minister.

2. Truth

Bringing reality into the light illuminates the truth about ourselves. This happens while reading our Bible (James 1:22-25), hearing the words of another person or when realizing the results of a decision.

But truth can be scary. When it's hard to handle, we tend to brush it off as damaging to our self-esteem. Instead, God may want to call our attention to an area of weakness.

"Responsible persons are mature people who have taken charge of themselves and their conduct," wrote William Bennett in “The Book of Virtues,” "who own their actions and own up to them — who answer for them."

Sometimes denying our responsibility to the truth may feel more comfortable. It's easier to show up late than get up earlier; easier to ignore a friend than work out a problem; easier to speed than obey traffic laws.

3. Time

The third element is time. Transforming your character will always take time — it is a process. Character must be cultivated moment by moment and little decision by little decision.

However, all time is not equal. Henry Cloud points out the difference between “good time” and “bad time.” “Good time is time in which we and our experiences can be affected by grace and truth. If we have removed some aspect of ourselves from time, grace and truth cannot transform it.”

Our character flaws cannot be changed until they are brought into the light — no matter how much time we take.

Take Time to Recognize and Receive God's Grace and Truth

Underdeveloped character manifests itself in every area we resolve to correct. Let's look at how combining grace, truth and time helps with the resolution of sticking to a budget.

When I overspend, I'm confronted with the truth in the form of consequences: unpaid bills, bounced checks and repossessed vehicles.

Next, I must incorporate grace. It may involve squelching self-condemnation with words of value ("I failed in this area, but I'm not a failure; I can change. It says in the Bible that 'I can do all things through Him who strengthens me,’” Philippians 4:13, ESV.)

Grace may mean asking a friend to hold me accountable and encourage me as I seek to make difficult changes.

And that's where time comes in. I can't change a disastrous situation overnight; bad habits take time to undo.

But I can begin to make investments in long-term changes — taking a class in financial management, asking the Lord to empower me to resist the temptation to overspend and memorizing and obeying Scripture about stewardship.

As I practice these things over time, financial self-control will become established in my character.

By incorporating these three ingredients into our maturing process, we can create an environment for character growth.

Editor's Note: We wish to acknowledge author and psychologist Henry Cloud for his teaching on this topic, which became the basis of this article. Henry Cloud has written “Changes That Heal” and co-written “Boundaries,” among other books.

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