Building Character by Telling Your Stories
“Will you tell me another one, Mom?”
My blonde-haired, blue-eyed son and I polished off peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while the younger kids pumped on the swing or happily created an elaborate mess at the sand table. My oldest son was clearly laser-focused on our conversation. He wanted me to tell him some more stories about times in my life when I’d had courage. And times when I hadn’t.
Just the day before, he had a friend over. When they asked to play Lego Star Wars on the Wii, I conceded — they could play for 20 minutes, and they needed to set the kitchen timer that we keep beside the TV (I prefer having a kitchen timer play the heavy when Wii time is up).
At one point, I actually went down to look at the timer; it seemed like it had been a long 20 minutes. After the friend went home, my son confessed. The friend had adjusted the timer to give them more time on the Wii. My son didn’t know what to do, so he didn’t do anything. (Lest you think that yes, I really am that naive, he’s been pretty trustworthy with the timer in the past.)
God continues to answer a frequent prayer of mine: that if my kids are doing wrong, they’ll get caught. Thankfully, my son told the truth and “caught” himself.
For several days, we’d been reading aloud from the book Growing Together In Courage and a question wisely posed was, “Would you stand for what was right even when it wasn’t popular?” Now I had an immediate avenue to talk with him. I asked him plainly: Could he expect to have courage in big, unpopular decisions if he didn’t have the courage to do what was right in small decisions? What would courage have looked like right there, in front of the TV?
And that’s when another recent piece of advice came to mind. Give your kids stories that tell them how your faith worked out (and is working out) in your own life. Tell them how God has been real to you and about the wise decisions you made — as well as some of your regrets when you didn’t follow God. Truth is, I don’t always think about telling my son the stories of character that God has been painstakingly authoring in my own life.
So that’s what brought my son and I to the deck, licking our fingers while the breeze blew our hair. I took a deep breath. “You know, it’s so hard having courage to do the right thing. I can think of some times I did — and some times I didn’t.” I related a handful of stories off the top of my head: times when God granted me the grace to do the right thing under pressure … and times when I didn’t choose God’s way out.
Like the time I chose to make fun of a friend of mine in front of everyone else. She had been someone at the low end of the social totem pole, and she regularly felt despised by her classmates. That day, I’d felt so unpopular that I wanted people to think I was funny, so I openly mocked something she’d said. I told my son how much I regretted that choice, and we imagined how my friend must have felt.
Later that night, he asked me again for more stories from my own life about courage. As I talked with him, I saw the faith that we discuss so often becoming solid and tangible in his mind. These were stories he could translate into his own life. Barbara’s book had given him a picture of courage on a large scale, and now stories from my life could tell him, “Start here. It looks like this — and not like this.” Courage along with character were becoming more than an idea. They were becoming something he could touch.
Bonus: Meanwhile, my son was learning about me. Our relationship was hitting a new level of closeness. And he knew that I could identify with things he was going through … or had yet to face. I think he will feel more comfortable to talk about whatever he faces because he knows I’ve been there. And I’m pretty sure that if his friend comes over again, my son won’t let him touch the Wii timer.
Now I’m wondering what character topic we’ll talk about next.