On Character

A version of this article originally appeared in the Et Cetera, Regent College’s student newspaper, on Dec 13, 2022.

Sometimes the voice in my head gets too loud to ignore: the one that says I simply don’t measure up compared to others. It recites like a litany or a creed all the things I have not done, all the accomplishments of life traditionally expected of someone my age that remain unfulfilled. It convinces me (however briefly) that the people I call my friends don’t actually think very much of me, and does not let me escape the sensation that I haven’t done much with my life, unlike them.

I don’t know how to drive. I don’t know how to ride a bike. I still live with my mother. I’m clumsy working with my hands. All this time in grad school isn’t really productive or setting myself up for a viable future.

In a recent bout of this heavy self-immolation, my friend did the kind of thing that true friends do and took me out to dinner. He offered to listen to that voice, and then offered a different voice and a different view of who I am.

And we talked about other things as well, like the paper I’m writing on re-enchanting culture and the world and the church, and the fantasy novel that’s led me to thinking along such lines—which for once isn’t The Lord of the Rings. Some of us (at least among the Christians I know) can rather go on about having an enchanted view of the world, and what it might mean that the world is more than we usually sense or see—that God is active and present in the world. But one of the points of conversation with my friend was the question: What does it mean to have an enchanted view of the self? Of your self?

Falling back on biblical language, you are the “image of God” and “filled with the Spirit”: God is inside of you, breathed into you. You are made not simply by your parents or even by your accomplishments. That making continues even now and God continues to have a hand in it. You have been formed and discipled and nurtured, even as you’ve made decisions and taken stands and committed mistakes. The Creator does not make you and then leave you to go on like a windup toy; the Creator continues to walk alongside you as you live. 

I’m not sure just how I would answer the question of what it means to have an enchanted view of myself, but I think it involves accepting and seeking to see the truth that God is as active and present in me as He is in the rest of the world. If my making did not stop when I came into existence, if it goes on, then that enchanted view of myself needs to speak louder than the voice that tells me I’ve made nothing, done nothing, am nothing.

My character is something that has been made, is being made, and is not yet finished being made.

I don’t mean simply that character is more important than accomplishments, but that character is an accomplishment in and of itself. Character is the result of a pattern of habits and thoughts, hopefully informed by a lifetime of listening to and responding to the active and present God. You and God, working together, formed the person you are. Your character is the most important contribution you make to the world. I may not have ‘done much’ with my life, but I have become someone—and am still becoming someone. The person I am now is an accumulation of the people I have been, and I will keep growing into another person still.

I could look back on myself and notice things that I have done, and try to show up the horrible, nagging voice with another litany of actual accomplishments. But it would miss the point. The answer to “I don’t know” or “I haven’t done” is not “I can” or “I have done”, but “I am.”

I am as kind as I know how to be. I am sensitive to the pain of the world and to the pain of my friends. I am someone who tries to hope even in the face of evidence and memory. I am someone who appreciates beauty. I am—hard as it is to remember—beloved.

Who I am is the only thing I really need to know how to do.

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