Monday, January 18, 2010

Building Character versus Controlling Behavior

Your behavior is how you act or respond, the things you do or say. Your character is who you are when nobody is watching. Often we forget that our role as parents (or other leaders) is to build character, not just make sure our kids behave the way we want them to. Your character will greatly affect your behavior, but it's a longer and more indirect process to mold character. A parable about character and behavior came to mind as I awoke this morning...

Suppose you're looking to display a beautiful painting permanently on a wall. You've got the painting itself, what everyone sees and which you want to look good, and you have the wall itself - the foundation which must support the painting. How can you make sure that the wall will support the painting over the long haul? Perhaps you'll want to use both glue and screws to make sure the two stay together. (If that's a dumb idea remember I'm not a handyman!) Glue will hold it in place the best, but it may take some time to set, during which the painting might slip down. The screws are something we apply externally to keep the painting in place until the glue dries. We can throw more screws in quickly, but doing so may mar the painting.

What happens if the painting is loose? Tighten the screws, right? Well, if they're loose, yes. But what if you've already tightened them as far as they should go? What if the threads are stripped? Over-tightening the screws at this point is completely counterproductive. You'll make a bigger hole, you'll mar the wall, and no amount of further tightening will help the painting stay in place better. Instead, you're better off taking out the screw, applying some gentle putty and let that take form before you think of replacing the screw (being extra careful this time not to over-tighten again). While you're at it, you should probably check that the painting is still hung level.

Here's the meaning of this parable. The wall is the moral foundation of the child - it needs to be solid and built strong enough to hold the weight of the painting. The painting is the behavior of the child, something we hope looks nice and will continue to do when when no one is around to view it. The screws are whatever actions we take to try to force or manipulate the behavior to stick to the moral foundation for character. The level (for Christians) is the Bible. Most important, but unseen is the painter, God Himself. The glue is love. It needs to be spread liberally, but also needs at times to be firm. It needs to be consistent, and it takes time to apply. The foundation itself cannot be neglected. The putty is forgiveness and forbearance. Screws do have a place, but keep them small and don't over-tighten them. (And for goodness sake man, put down the nail gun!!)

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