Building Character

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By Teresa Sayles, Children’s Creative Arts Director

Woodland Hills Church
The past two weeks, we’ve talked about how our picture of God shapes our faith and our identities and how creating family values together and working to integrate those values into daily life is key in creating a unified and loving home.  I’d like to build off those ideas today and look at character.

Character is the mixture of habits, behaviors, and thought-patterns you possess.  These characteristics are grown and shaped by your values and by how you understand and relate to the world around you.  They’re the kind of things people usually use to describe who you are (aside from how you look).  “Oh, she is so thoughtful and kind toward others.”  “He’s the kind of guy who keeps his promises and takes responsibility for his actions.”  “She’s got courage and bravery off the charts!”  We all want to have a character that can be described in positive ways that reflect our faith and our life with Christ.  And we want that for our kids, as well.

So how do you help a child develop that kind of character?  What grows and shapes a child’s character more than anything else?  Learning by example.  A young child begins reacting to and mimicking the behavior she sees almost immediately.  Like a set of building blocks, she takes one piece of information, sets it in her mind, and uses it as a base for another new piece of information.  Which means that what she sees and experiences in relation to others helps her develop an understanding of what is valued and what is not, what can be trusted and what to be wary of.  When she is told hitting her brother is not okay because it hurts her brother whom she and your family love, she learns that others need to be valued and not hurt and that forgiveness can be given when we mess up.  When she is praised for helping to clean up toys, she learns cooperation and lending a hand are valued and encouraged.  Knowing these values are held by people she cares for and trusts, she will likely begin to develop characteristics of helpfulness, care for others, and forgiveness.  Will she do it right every time?  Not a chance.  But with continual love, grace, and gentle discipline, she can also add perseverance and determination to her character.

As children get older, parents and family members still have a great deal of influence in a child’s character (often more than you’d think), but there come two added factors with age: peer relationships and culture.  Interacting with peers from the late elementary years into the teen years gets really tricky – Often, values and identities kids have had since infancy are put to the test, which shakes up character and causes some wonky behavior and thought-patterns.  Though he’s always been told he’s loved and forgiven at home, a child may experience something different from classmates and friends.  In order to gain their attention and acceptance, he may chose to set aside family values such as honesty and obedience and lie to his friends that he can play a certain video game even though the truth is that’s a game his parents have said no to at home.

So what do you do when this happens?  Have they lost their character?  Nope.  The best thing to do: Don’t freak out.  Plain and simple.  Kids will – like you – make mistakes.  They will let something else tell them what is true, who they are, and what they should value, and that will drive them at times to behave in negative ways.  Steer away from just pointing out their mistake and telling them not to do that again.  It doesn’t get at the root issue.  The root issue in this instance is the child wants to get something of his identity and worth from his peers.  That’s what you really want to help him tackle.  Help him in see the truth of who he is in Christ and how lying and disobedience pull him away from the incredible young man God made him to be – a child of God who is full of potential and love and talent.  This will likely have a more lasting effect than simply grounding him for bad behavior.  Through respectful dialogue (not a lecture), he can take part in the conversation, voice his own concerns and frustrations and feelings, and learn how to work out the deeper issues he’s dealing with each day.

Kids want to be heroes – look at the movies and games they watch and play.  They want to be brave, honest, and successful like their “heroes.”  We just need to help them learn that building a character based on Christ and Kingdom values is the best way to get there.

Family Values and Rules

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By Paula Bowlby, Associate Early Childhood Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

Spring time is knocking at our door. With one of my children, this most often meant a phone call from the school. It seemed like every spring, the phone would ring and the teacher would let me know that my child had become comfortable at school, was talking too much and needed some redirection. We would sit down and talk about behavior, respect and the consequences of their actions. We would come up with a plan to apologize to the teacher and how to move forward. The common theme during these interactions was respect.

Respect was one of our values as a family. Respecting others, property and ourselves was talked about often. Service was another value in our family. Each of the kids as they grew picked some way to serve and to give back. These values have stuck with them as they have grown, and I see fruits of what was taught.

Proverbs 22:6 says “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” This Scripture shows some intentionality and gives a directive. Many versions say, train up a child. I believe in each family, this looks different. We were all raised with a set of values; sometimes we embrace the values we were raised with while at other times we customize those values, adding our own spin. Your children will do the same, but it is up to you to intentionally lay down that foundation. My oldest child and his friend were talking with me one day. His friend was trying to make a decision and asked for my input. My son looked right at his friend and said, “She isn’t going to tell you anything different that I did. I got my morals and values from her.” He was right – we said the same thing.

Now, I know this is a blog post. Most blog posts don’t come with homework. This one does. I encourage you to Google or go on Pinterest where you will find hundreds of personal core value charts. It is a super fun exercise to look the charts over and whittle the list down to 3-5 values. Look them over. If you are married, compare your list to your spouse’s. What is common? What is different? Which values would you like to pass on to your children? What would you like your family to stand for? What would your family rule poster look like?

In our family we-___________________________________________________. You fill in the blank and intentionally live out Kingdom values in your family and share them with the next generation.

A Picture of God

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By Patrick Showers, Elementary Associate Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

Several years ago, when my oldest daughter was in kindergarten, she came home all excited to share a picture she had drawn of me.  My first reaction was pride and then confusion.  She had drawn me, in her detailed stick figure way, standing.  Now, this was about a year after I had become paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair.  So, I was unsure what to make of her drawing.  I realized that even though she interacted with me daily in a wheelchair, she still saw me as the dad who chased her around, held her in his arms, and carried her to bed when she was younger.  Her image of me as her strong, caring protector hadn’t changed even if my ability to stand had.

Fast forward to my youngest child.  He, too, came home with a picture of me, but this time he drew me as sitting.  He still saw me as the caring, strong protector, but he didn’t have any framework for me as a dad who could stand.  I’d been in a wheelchair his whole life.  The drawing was more accurate, but both pictures saw me in the same way.

I wondered how accurate my mental picture of God would be if I could show it to him.  Would my concept of his character and traits align with reality?

Several years ago, researchers, decided to survey Americans to see how they viewed God.  Respondents’ answers typically identified one of four conceptions of God:

  • Image #1 = Powerful or Angry Father – Father as angry judge; Jesus as loving innocent son.  A courtroom image that primarily presents God as offended King/Judge and presents us as evil subjects/criminals.
  • Image #2 = Distant, Disinterested Dad or Mysterious Spiritual Force. He/It is out there, but I’m not really on the radar
  • Image #3 = Kindly, Old Santa Claus. Happy God where all kids get presents! And there is no “naughty” list!
  • Image #4 = Critical, legalistic Father.  He’s watching every move you make and constantly judging whether you’ve got it right or wrong.

In the Bible, we find we can know God by looking at Jesus, whose life and ministry demonstrated a God who is love.  Not an ordinary type of love, but selfless, unconditional, sacrificial, relentless, passionate, forgiving, merciful, and unstoppable love.
When you hear the word “God,” what comes to your mind’s eye?  Does your picture of God match what’s described in the Bible, or is it more like one of the four images researchers identified in America?

Even though both of my children had different pictures of me, both still saw me as loving, strong, and protective.  I would hope as they get older their image of me would remain unchanged in that regard.   Their image of me was cultivated by their relationship with me, the time we spent together, and their experiences.

For us, our life experiences, the people around us, and even the culture heavily influence our image of God.  The more we stay connected to Him relationally, the more accurate our image of Him will be.

Over the years, I’ve asked 5th & 6th graders to share their mental image of God, and the responses always vary.  Some have an accurate image of him and others share one of the distorted views.   I’m not sure what experiences in their young lives have caused these differences in their understanding of who God is, but I do believe that we as parents are major influencers of that image.

Periodically in your child’s life, ask him/her the question, “What is God like?” and see how he/she responds.  Be prepared to share your perspectives, as well.  You can use this as a litmus test to determine whether he/she is on track or if you need to guide him/her back into alignment.

So, I challenge you to read through the Gospels and see if you need to clarify or update your image of God to align with the accurate picture described in the Bible.  Our relationship and our trust in him is impacted by any negative or distorted perceptions of him.  When we have a strong relationship with God, we not only model that to our children, but we inadvertently serve as a positive influence for their image of God, as well.

The Big Yes

We are delighted to feature another post written by Erica Morrow!  We hope her humble and insightful words will help you to answer God’s call for your family with a resounding, “Yes!” as well.

I find great joy in being a mother, I adore my three children, and I cherish the responsibility of crafting experiences along the way for them that will shape their view of the world. But in many, many moments, I have to self-talk away the shame of the “not enoughs” that come with being a mom. My children (while I love them dearly) cause me on the regular to send SOS texts imploring friends to pray for their safety and mine when I am losing my patience or sensing my head about to explode. And that experience crafting business? Well let’s just say that errands to Target and distracted multitasking tend to win again and again over intentionality.

My heart wants it. Everything in my soul is longing to take this life work of parenthood and to bring good, true things into it. To sing the song that only I can sing over my children as they grow, to nurture their spirits and stubbornly hold fast to the important things God has for them to learn along the way. And in this last season, God is slowly unclenching my fists and teaching me what it means to deepen my roots as a follower of Jesus, with eyes and ears attuned to His priorities for my family, not mine.

Three kids and a decade into parenting, I can safely say that the method of hoping I’m on the right track with this and wishing my way into the kind of home we want to create is a myth. Pinteresting quotable phrases and reading the right parenting books won’t actually get us there. David and I talking over coffee in the mornings about how we need to change our schedules to make room for more simplicity and intentionality won’t get us there. Yes, those are things that point us down the road, but at some point I need to take a breath, stop trying to do a hundred things in the space for one thing, listen to the Holy Spirit, and then take a physical step in the direction of God’s wooing and compelling voice. He is beckoning me and my family to a place where our hearts long for the things His heart longs for. Where our priorities are the things He prioritizes. Where my deepest joy in motherhood becomes the work of finding wonder in the world all around me and simply aligning my life so that we encounter it more and more.

And something really amazing has happened as I have allowed God to reshape my intentions. I have found a place of serious grace and unrelenting mercy for my shortcomings in motherhood – where I would previously just default to the “not enough” zone, God is speaking new words over me. Words that sound a little like this: “You are equipped through me to do what I have called you to do.” “Let me refresh you, my child.” “Let’s walk this road together.” And this, if you can even believe it: “You ARE enough.” And a funny thing happens when I start to listen to the voice of truth instead of all the others. I am freed up to start thinking creatively about who I am and who our family is. We are His and securely rooted in His love, so heck yes to that crazy thing that will be hard but so good. And yes, yes, and yes to opportunities to adventure with my children into places that aren’t necessarily convenient or rational, but are completely and abundantly spirit led.

So, Mexico. I’m taking the two elementary-aged kiddos from our family to Puebla in April with a group of 17 parents and kids from Woodland Hills. When God speaks words of confidence into my life and my parenting, it frees me up to be brave and say yes to adventures – the very adventure I was speaking of earlier that can help shape the way my children see the world. The crazy thing is that when I believe that true voice which reminds me that He is my sustainer in motherhood (and all the things), the opportunities to respond to that seem like they flash in front of me on bright and shiny billboards. Maybe those opportunities are always all around us, but with truth as my guide, my eyes can be wide open enough to see them.  And sometimes for me, the big yeses strengthen my heart for the often more difficult small ones. I have a feeling that if we want to learn about what God loves and find out what he is passionate about, this is a good place to begin. We know that His love for the kids at Esperanza Viva is passionate and extravagant, and together as parents and children we will be students of that love as we play, sing, craft, dance, and do life together for the week.

My prayer is that as my family and I seek out and respond to opportunities to love what God loves, we will be slowly transformed more into His likeness. That our experiences and interactions in Mexico and all of the other opportunities to come will not only impact us in those moments, but that they will carry over to the breakfast table. I think of Mexico as another step towards that voice that woos us, and my dream is that my children (and I!) would learn that life offers no better adventure than the one that is following the heart of our Father.