Today is my 36th birthday. In 36 years of birthdays, I don’t think there has been a less interesting one. When I was younger, birthdays were an exciting time to contemplate the future, think about who I wanted to be and what I wanted to become. That excitement has dwindled over time as I’ve unraveled more and more answers to those questions. At 36, I find myself thinking there isn’t much left to figure out about myself; I am who I am now.
Technically speaking, that is scientifically true. You’ve probably heard the terms “nature and nurture” that are used to describe the respective importance of genetics and childhood environment on personality development. Depending on the study, most psychological research has suggested that our personalities are almost entirely determined based on these factors by age 4-6 (e.g., see this article).
Age 4-6? That was 30 years ago! It’s startling to think that I’ve basically been working with the same set of cards over all those years. Of course I’ve matured, pursued education and gained practical life perspective, but through it all, science says I’ve been roughly the same person.
I’ve especially felt the tension of that reality since becoming a parent four years ago. My positive traits kicked into high gear for the benefit of my kids. My negative traits became glaring at the expense of my kids. Never has there been a time in my life when I more wanted to be a “better me,” yet most of the time it seems I just tread water toward that goal. Seeing both my positive and negative traits appear in my kids already at age three has made me realize just how hard-wired we humans are. I look at the situation and think, “no wonder it’s so hard to change!”
But each time I feel like throwing in the towel on striving to be that elusive “better me,” I am reminded of the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
Every fruit on this list is impacted in one way or another by that personality with which we were (theoretically) hard-wired by about age 6. Yet none of us were hard-wired to look like the picture of Galatians 5:22-23. How do we bridge that gap?
The Bible is telling us that there is more to the Christian than nature and nurture. Christians are a product of nature, nurture, and the Holy Spirit.
The Bible gives us the unique hope that we can be changed through the work of the Holy Spirit throughout our lives – long after age 6. The “catch,” however, is that we must be dependent on the Spirit for these Godly changes, not ourselves (as I wrote about here, these are the fruits of the Spirit, not of being a Christian!).
This leaves me with two key conclusions:
1. We should never give up on becoming a more Godly person, even when it seems our hard-wiring is winning. The Bible promises us that the work of the Spirit produces the fruit we seek. That means the work we need to do is in seeking to be filled with the Spirit in the first place.
2. There is only so much we, as parents, can contribute to our children’s nature and nurture, and that may even be limited in time frame to early childhood. But when we raise them to know the Lord, we raise them to embrace the work of the Holy Spirit, and that is the power that can actually change them throughout their lives. Could anything we do be more important?
Do you spend more time working on changing yourself or working to be filled with the Spirit? How have you seen the Holy Spirit work to change you?