In my latest book writing class I’m teaching at my local college, I have stressed the importance of “character arc,” or how a character (usually the main one or protagonist) grows or changes through the story line or plot of the novel. It’s what typically elevates a book to be really great. Most characters are not (or at least should not) be perfect in the beginning of the book…nor should they be all bad either (or we won’t like them and thus, won’t care about them enough to keep reading about them.) They usually have a mix of strengths and weaknesses, although their character flaws may be most evident in the beginning of the book and we, the readers, usually care enough about them that we end up rooting for them to discover their strengths, usually in the midst of challenges, hardships or crises.
I think the same is true of each of us…over the days and years of our lives we gradually come to discover our own character flaws, our strengths and our weaknesses, and if we’re on the right spiritual path (of progress) we try to overcome our weaknesses and hone our strengths. Just like a business does a “SWOT” analysis (asking what its Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats are in order to grow), we should check in with ourselves occasionally or do an inventory and see where we stand. Otherwise, we stay still and stagnant. I believe we need to first become aware of our weaknesses and “threats” (temptations and people or things that push our buttons) and also our strengths and “opportunities” (usually ways to use them to help others). Once we’re aware of them, we can take action to minimize our weaknesses and maximize or take advantage of our strengths.
Why bother? Why not just “go with the flow” and not do so much work on ourselves? Just like a business, we as individuals profit from taking inventory, awareness and action, and the growth that results. I usually become acutely aware of my weaknesses when I’m feeling particularly anxious, irritable or discontent. My symptoms usually include regret (the “shoulda, coulda, woulda” syndrome where I wish I could change something in the recent past), indecisiveness – even when it comes to little things, and/or feeling the “blues,” like I usually do around this time of year when the air gets colder and I know summer is over and winter is around the bend. I then start to see or experience my weaknesses…of procrastination, its evil antithesis impatience, and avoidance or its counterpart – being scattered or unfocused. If left to fester, these weaknesses can cause a downward spiral that leads to depression and even despair – not what God wants for me by far. Instead, if I take action and focus on my strengths – not an easy task for most of us – I can lift my mood and usually become grateful and joyful once more, which makes me more productive.
What are your weaknesses and strengths? In addition to my talents (what I’m good at, or my writing and speaking abilities), my strengths are my positiveness (seeing the silver lining), my spirit of adventure, and my inquisitive nature or curiosity. I can use these to help others to in turn be more positive, find their strengths and discover their own joy – as well as have fun! For example, yesterday was a cold and rainy day but we had already picked it for my grandkids to visit. I was wishing we had picked the day before (already taken by another set of grandparents) which was warm and sunny. But, putting my weaknesses aside and capitalizing on my strengths, I held an indoor scavenger hunt for Halloween treats, we carved a big pumpkin, and had brunch together…and had a lot of fun!
God, help me to turn to you in my weaknesses for Your strength, and to use the gifts, talents and strengths you put in me to help others to see and use theirs.