catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 16 :: 2013.09.06 — 2013.09.19


Character counts

I am raising sons.  They are still young and our days together are filled with boy stuff.  As they battle invisible foes, and often each other, I wrestle with the how-to’s of raising up men who will fight the good fight, able to recognize what is worth fighting for.  It is tough, because I find they have the same weakness that I do.  It is sometimes easier to be a respectable citizen out in the world.  Like me, they generally want to please others, and the consequences of bad behavior can be so big.  But once we come home, we let ourselves go, weary of expending the effort to follow rules and get along.  After all, family has to live with you no matter what.

A wiser mother, a more experienced one, told me that it is good they feel safe enough at home to let go.  The world is not a safe place for being human.  Love allows us the grace to be the dust that we are.  And I am so grateful for the grace that our home offers to each one of us, full of forgiveness and new starts. Yet at the same time, I believe true community, blessed community, comes from those who choose to lay themselves down for another, not for the gain or recognition that comes from being an upstanding citizen, but for the true good of the other. 

I want to teach my boys how to do this for each other.  I figure if they can learn what it means to have integrity and character with each other, where it’s always easier to just duke it out, then they will live with integrity and character wherever they go: knowing the value of saying please rather than demanding their own way; receiving with gratitude, offering thank you’s to those around them; being humble enough and secure enough to admit mistakes, quick to apologize and courageous enough to forgive. 

Can I just say how hard this is to do with little boys?

I’m not exactly sure where the inspiration came from, but last spring we started a new project.  I call it “Character Counts.”  Quite simply, we count the instances where our family shows good character.  After stories and prayers we list out loud the times we saw one another do the right thing. 

As our list grows, so does our awareness.  I ask them to look for good character in each other, because we cannot list our own good character; it must be mentioned by someone else to count.  What a joy it is to see them looking for opportunities to brag about each other.  Often at the end of a long day, I will forget the list.  But the boys remind me:  “Mom, do we have any character counts for today?”

I have noticed that they are slowly learning how to create community.  My oldest spends his time encouraging his two younger brothers, cheering them on, helping them to be more gentle with each other.  My quiet middle child has taken it upon himself to pick up silently what his older brother forgets, often the backpack left in the car or on the kitchen floor.  And my little one just has a lot of love to spread around.  He’s still learning what it means to be gentle with his older brothers, but I am so proud of him for the gentleness he shows with very small children.  Even though he is still small himself, he seems to know that little ones need extra special care.

It’s not a magic formula.  We still have so much farther to go.  However, I see signs that they are learning.  And to be honest, I am, too.  I have caught sight of my own reflection in the car window, impatiently hounding them, “Get in! Or we’ll be late!”  I cringe at the picture of my face distorted by such un-love-liness, the un-grace laced through my words.  I’ve quietly started counting my own character, reminding myself to use good manners with them.  Isn’t that where they will most learn what it means to do the right thing?  What if “please” and “thank you” and “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” came out of my mouth as regularly from me for them as I want it to come forth from them out in the world?

I guess what I am learning from the whole endeavor is that my character counts as much as theirs does.  And I cannot ask them to do what I have not asked myself to do first.  And before I can ask these brothers to lay down their selves for each other, I have to lay myself down first. 

There really is such a short time left.  Time is quietly dwindling as the hours pass into days pass into months pass into seasons and years.  Too soon they will be leaving this nest, this learning lab of life.  I know the day may come when these boys feel too big to count together the things that count.  Yet I hope that the community they are learning to create now with each other will one day reach beyond them.  It occurs to me that as I pray for the world to become a better place, these sons will be my prayers released, sent forth to do within the world what they have learned to do at home.  

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