“It’s no use to go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.” – from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carol
Think about the life of your favorite book character. What draws you to that person? Do you see a bit of yourself in them? Can you relate to their struggles? Or do you find a challenge to be more than you are as you consider their life?
Whatever draws you to them, one thing is certain. The best characters grow throughout their story. It’s story writing 101. Your character develops as your story progresses. A stagnant character is more than likely a boring character.
The same circumstances will change each character in a different way. Consider the four Pevensie children in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. They faced the same circumstances, but their own personalities shaped how they saw those experiences and their reactions. The end result was four children growing in ways unique to them.
This personalizing of the character’s responses and their individual growth may be part of what draws us to one character over another. I may relate to and learn from Lucy while you may aspire to be like Peter. Of course, maybe you’ve felt like you had to prove yourself and come up on the failing end one too many times. If so, Edmund’s journey from failure to redemption may be the most inspiring part of the story for you.
To see a beloved character revert to behaviors they’ve previously grown out of can break a reader’s heart. We want more for the characters we love. They’ve changed. We know they have, and we know it is pointless for them to return to the more immature version of themselves. Who they were yesterday has no place in their today. They’re different now.
As frustrating and heartbreaking as it can be for a reader to see this happen in the fictional world an author has created, it’s worse when we see it in our own families. The consequences in a book end with the last chapter. The consequences in the real world can continue for generations. Especially as a spouse or parent, watching our loved ones fall into old patterns of behavior hurts. Seeing the pain they inflict on themselves can cause our own emotions to bounce between disbelief, anger, disappointment, and hurt.
If it’s this way for us, imagine what it’s like for God. We are His creation. When we accept God’s forgiveness and salvation through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we are reconciled to God. But He doesn’t stop at offering us a Savior and saved relationship. God adopts us into His family. He makes us His children. And He doesn’t leave us unchanged.
Scripture is filled with examples of the need to grow as believers. We’re compared to babies as we start our faith walks, but we’re encouraged to learn and grow into spiritual adulthood. We’re instructed to be dead to sin and our old self and alive to God. We’re told to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. God tells us we are new creations and the old us has passed away.
God’s word also warns us that we will battle the old self. Paul speaks of wanting to do the things that please God but finding himself doing the opposite. We are not slaves to sin anymore, but there are times we live like we are. We are human, and we fail. We revert to old patterns. We forget who we are and whose we are. We slide back into the old self, and we pay the price. Our witness is weakened and our relationship with God becomes strained. Those are just spiritual effects. Depending on what we slip back to, there can be physical consequences for us and those we love.
How must God feel when He sees us revert to our old selves? He knows more completely than any earthly parent the harm those ways cause. He knows how much better the path He sets out for our lives is for us. He wants His best for us and sees us choose the refuse of our old lives over and over again. Can you imagine the disappointment and hurt that must cause?
But also consider the joy when we choose to be who we are today instead of trying to be who we were yesterday? Nothing brings me greater happiness than seeing my children learn from mistakes and grow into more of who God designed them to be. Through grace and mercy, failure is not once and for all. They can find forgiveness and turn away from the person they were yesterday. When they do, my mother’s heart celebrates. God’s joy is more complete than my own, and it isn’t reserved for our children. It’s meant for His children and that includes me and you.
Like Alice we need to understand that being who we were yesterday is not an option. We need to keep changing and growing. In stories it’s called character development. For us? I’d have to say it’s character development too.