Character Development = Spiritual Development

We sat at a corner table in our favorite Mexican restaurant, my four-year-old daughter beside me. We snacked on chips and salsa while trying to decide what to order, but my daughter did not want anything from the menu – only chips and butter. I gave her several options from the children’s menu; she refused them all. I finally told her I would make her a burrito from my plate. In confident defiance, she replied: “I’m not going to eat it. I’m just having chips and butter.”

I suddenly realized we were not in a power struggle over food. The food situation was the springboard, but we were in a spiritual battle; a battle of the wills. As the mother, I can either acquiesce or become firm and put my proverbial foot down1 (p. 175, ¶2). At the moment, though, neither option seemed appropriate. I needed to deal with the defiance more that the food issue2 (p. 177, ¶3). I also needed to enlist her will on the side of what is right3 (p. 210, ¶1, 2, 4).

Spiritual development is training a child in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6); molding their personhood into who they should be. The ups and downs of child development, such as the terrible twos, are part of our own spiritual development process. Enduring the various “phases” of child development, waiting for a child to mature out of certain “phase”, does not help us or the child4 (p. 204, ¶2). Studying the temperament, behaviors, tendencies, likes and dislikes of each child helps us to be more purposeful in how we approach and train them5 (p. 205, ¶2). The focus and purposefulness of our efforts molds us every bit as much as it molds the child. As we painstakingly teach our children how to be obedient, cultivate benevolence and surrender selfishness, we, too, are learning the same lessons. As they grow in grace – we grow in grace.

At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

What would have happened if I had acquiesced to my daughter’s willfulness? After all, we were at a restaurant; who wants to create an embarrassing scene? The outcome, though, would have been the strengthening of my child’s willful defiance6 (p. 178, ¶1,2).

What if I had become firm and demanded her obedience? Can I force a child to eat food she doesn’t want? Really? At what cost? Anger and resentment? Would not her anger and resentment tend to strengthen her willfulness and defiance even further7 (p. 206, ¶4)? Yes, my child is a strong-willed little one and this option would have damaged our relationship, weakened my authority and shattered the picture of God that I am trying to help her formulate8 (p. 211, ¶1).

Knowing that this battle was a battle of willfulness and defiance, I sent up a quick, quiet prayer. I then chose to leave my chair and kneel down beside my daughter. In a quiet but decisive tone, I explained to her what she needed to eat and why. Then I again told her my expectations and set a behavioral parameter which I knew she could meet9 (p. 210, ¶4).  We agreed on the plan and I returned to my seat. No anger, no fussing, no further defiance. She obeyed as best she could and at the end of the meal she came and sat in my lap.

Train up a child in the way they should go and when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6). Hopefully the Bible stories and scripture songs will meld with the daily character lessons and indeed, my daughter – and I – will become the type of person God calls each of us to be10 (p. 212, ¶1).


© 2010, C. Gillan Byrne


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1, 2, 6 White, E. G. (1954/1982). Ways in Which Character is Ruined (Chapter Title). In E. G. White Publications (Eds.), Child Guidance. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association.

3, 8, 9, 10  White, E. G. (1954/1982). The Will A Factor in Success (Chapter Title). In E. G. White Publications (Eds.), Child Guidance. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association.

4, 5, 7  White, E. G. (1954/1982). Study Age, Disposition, and Temperament (Chapter Title). In E. G. White Publications (Eds.), Child Guidance. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association.


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