“It builds character!”
Ever heard that before? Coming from a missionary family, I sure did.
Difficult events “build character.”
But they don’t. Not always. And not even with any kind of regularity.
Difficult events can build character, but it doesn’t mean they will.
I have loved rock tumblers since I was a kid. My grandfather Hollas Evans was a serious lapidary enthusiast. Thanks to him, I even subscribed to the Lapidary Journal as a kid and enjoyed reading the articles. Now it appears to be some sort of silly jewelry-making DIY mag, but back then it was some heady stuff.
I also subscribed to Science News, which was also rather entertaining.
But I digress.
I mention rock tumbling, because it is a good example of a stressful process which leads to beautiful results. If you tumble chunks of snowflake obsidian, jasper, amethyst or turquoise, you usually end up with something beautiful.
But if you put limestone or sandstone in a rock tumbler, you don’t get a beautiful polished stone at the end of the tumbling process. You get ugly, crumbled bits or, at the very best, an ugly object with the edges knocked smooth.
A rock hound might say, charitably, that the results of your tumbling experiments “lacked character.”
So – does this mean anything when applied to humans?
It could mean that what is beneath the surface is revealed in times of stress.
As Christ says in Luke 6:45:
“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.”
A good application of this verse is to never completely trust someone who brags of evil. Such as the guy who talks about how he put one over on a previous business partner, or mentions that it would be really easy to steal from a particular store. Sometimes it is a thought experiment, sure, but you can tell what is in the heart. The difficulty is that there is both good and evil in every man’s heart. You must know this and give some forgiveness to minor sin, knowing that no one is perfect, while at the same time trying to determine the daily actions of an individual to know whether he is generally worthy of trust.
President John F. Kennedy said:
“A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all human morality.”
No, it isn’t. It may be noble to press on in the face of obstacles and dangers and pressures and the rick of personal consequences, but it certainly isn’t moral in and of itself. And it is no basis for morality.
The execrable Aleister Crowley wrote “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”
This is literally Satanic, as is JFK’s quote. The basis of morality is not Man himself. We are all crumbly chunks of limestone and sandstone unless transformed by the fire of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing innate in us worthy of polishing unless it is first granted by God.
So it is NOT just the case of people being beautiful inside and stress bringing out their innate, perfect, lovely, amazing, super-special humanness. No.
There must first be something worthy of polishing, and we don’t get that on our own. We are evil from conception.
But once there is that underlying stone which is worthy of polishing – a firm foundation, so to speak – then stress can indeed bring out beauty in an individual. My mother is an example of this. She had serious flaws in her life as a young woman – as do all of us – but grew through stresses most of us cannot imagine, into a woman who is thoughtful, loving, patient, kind, long-suffering, and a wonderful grandmother to her grandchildren.
Other women of her age still act like selfish teenagers, toodling around in RVs, still listening to crap 60s music while harassing people that don’t wear facemasks or who take their kids to the park during the current scamdemic.
Stresses need to occur on something worthy of polish or polishing will not occur. Some people shoot themselves when under stress. Others drink. Yet others eat.
The stress process doesn’t bring out beauty in these cases. And the analogy of stone-polishing fails here, as unlike stones, we do have some choice as to how we respond to pressure.
If you binge-eat when stress occurs, you end up fatter and uglier than before. If you instead pour yourself into fasting and prayer and Bible-reading, you will emerge from the process more healthy both spiritually and physically.
You have to tumble with the tumbler, so to speak.
The last few years have been a time of interesting personal stresses. It has been a time of great discoveries and joy, and great frustrations and loss. We added two new children to the family, while losing a child to miscarriage and losing Dad in a car accident. We learned to be a minority in a foreign nation and we learned which people were true friends and which were not. We learned to lose our fear of alien situations, building our own houses, dealing with paperwork and having a baby with minimal help.
I have many more gray hairs than when I started, but I pray I’ve tumbled well. It has been a heckuva ride, living in the jungle, eating weird food, leading a terrifying life filled with pyromania and terrible endotoxins…
…and now it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire, as we head back to a country that is spinning out of control.
Or tumbling, I suppose you could say.
If you’re stressed, stay in the Word. It’s a huge help and will help you roll with the tumbler. And remember – no one gets out alive, including the wicked. In a strange way, I find that quite comforting.