The Forging of Character
Character is forged not on the mountaintop but in the valley.
~The Matheny Manifesto, Mike Matheny and Jerry B. Jenkins.
I hope this isn’t a big secret that I’m letting out, but life is full of ups and downs. There will be good times, and there will be bad times. Ideally, we try to keep the bad times to a minimum, but we don’t have control over all our circumstances. The best we can do is control how we react in such circumstances.
In The Matheny Manifesto, former MLB catcher and current MLB manager Mike Matheny talks a lot about his approach to baseball, and in particular, his approach to youth sports — for both kids and parents. I read it several years ago, and it’s a great perspective from somebody who knows what he is talking about.
This quote, however, is about more than youth sports. It’s about more than parents. This is a quote about life in general. When I think about mountaintop experiences, I think about the story of Jesus known as the transfiguration.
Jesus takes three of his disciples with him to the top of a mountain, and while they are there, they see him transfigured right before their very eyes. It says that his clothes turned a white more brilliant than anything we can see on this earth. And, then, two figures were standing next to him. These persons are identified as Moses and Elijah, two key figures in what Christians call the Old Testament.
At this point in the story, Peter — not one to let a moment pass without having to say something, it seems — says, “It’s good that we are here. Let’s build three booths — one for each of you” (Pastor Swish Translation). Peter wanted to stay in that moment, and who could blame him?
When it comes to incredible experiences in our lives, we all want to stay there. We sometimes spend the rest of our lives trying to re-create that moment, which, more often than not, is an impossible task. These are the mountaintop moments. But our character isn’t forged in such times.
Certainly, a portion of our character can be revealed in these moments. This month, watch some of the NCAA tournaments. See how people hold up when their team is up by a lot of points. See how they react when the time finally expires and they win. People will character won’t gloat. They won’t get in the face of their vanquished opponents… that’s a little too Medieval, isn’t it? You get what I mean.
On the other hand, watch those who are losing or have lost. This will say a lot more about their character. I remember several years ago, the Cardinals and Dodgers were playing each other in the first round of the playoffs. I want to say it was 2004 because I remember Adrian Beltre being on the Dodgers. In any case, they ran into a buzzsaw Cardinals team, and the Cardinals beat them pretty easily in that first round.
What I remember about that series, though, is something I don’t think I have seen since, and this is why I remember Adrian Beltre being on that team. After the final out, Beltre led his teammates out of the dugout, and they proceeded to applaud the Cardinals. I’ve never seen a team do that before. It was an incredible display of sportsmanship and character. Every one of those players was forged in the midst of defeat. Their character stood out. No doubt, losing a playoff series after a long season is a difficult thing to handle. It was definitely a “valley” in their professional careers, and in that moment, they showed the importance of being a good sport.
I think our character is revealed on the mountaintop, but it is forged in the valleys. Now, the valleys certain reveal our character as well, but, if we approach them with the right attitude, they can also shape our character. It’s up to us to decide what we do with it.
So, the next time you come up against adversity, how will your character be revealed and forged? It might be a good idea to get that in your head now, so that when the time comes — and it will come, don’t worry — you can show yourself to be a person of good character.