The word character literally means to “stamp” or “imprint.” It is an important word in the Christian vocabulary because its root comes from charis, which means “grace” in Greek. God’s grace is a force that can shape who we become. I remember Rev. Frederick Trost lecturing at the Dunkirk Theological Colloquy, where he shared a powerful illustration on character formation.
In 1941 the Nazis set into motion a plan to kill all special needs children who were cared for in church related institutions. In response, The Bishop of Muenster summoned the church to resistance; he encouraged Christians to hide the children in their homes, barns and throughout the country side, then dared the Nazis to find them. Many took up this call and faced persecution and death for their actions.
Bishop Von Galen preached a sermon on July 20, 1941 to encourage the church in the face of such adversity. Remain strong, he said, “Ask the blacksmith and hear what he says. The object which is forged on the on the anvil receives its form not alone from the hammer, but also from the anvil. The anvil cannot and need to strike back; it must only be firm… The anvil lasts longer than the hammer. However hard the hammer strikes, the anvil stands quietly and firmly in place and will long continue to shape the objects forged on it.”
What a powerful image! Who we become has much to do with the anvil as well as the hammer. In faith we believe that the One who stands with us ultimately shapes our character in response to experiences in our lives—even if they should strike with a hammer’s force. I am not alone believing that character formation in and beyond the church is among our most important tasks. An anonymous author has observed what’ at stake: Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become your character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny. Hear more on this subject in my sermon preached on June 12th found at www.actonc.org.