If there is anything I’ve learned in life, it is this: We do not grow in character during the good times. When life is easy, when there is enough money to pay the bills, and when all our relationships are peaceful, we tend to become vain.  We believe that things are going well based on our own efforts, and that is why we don’t have any problems.

Rather, it is when we go through hard times that our characters are tested and developed. In fact, we change, either for better or worse, depending on how we respond to hard times.  We certainly have seen this in the public sphere.  Malala is a young lady who was shot in the head as a child in Pakistan for promoting education for girls.  Instead of becoming bitter and angry after this experience, she chose to become an even more fervent champion for female education, eventually winning the Nobel Peace Prize.  Barack Obama grew up without a steady paternal influence.  In spite of this, he decided not to lead a life of addiction to drugs or alcohol or to resort to bad behavior.  Rather, he chose a life of public service which ultimately led to his becoming president of the United States.

So, it is not the hard times that dictate who we become. Rather, it is our response to those hard times that makes us who we are.  In fact, I would argue that we need some resistance in life in order to achieve great things.  Obstacles push us out of our comfort zone.  They force us to do things we would not normally do, in order to achieve our goals.

Below are ways to ensure that as you go through difficulties, you respond in ways that benefit you and that positively grow your character. Consider using some of these approaches whenever you face challenges in your own life.

Be Helpful:  It may seem counterintuitive that at a time when you need the most help, you should be helping others.  But serving others will give you a sense of purpose during a time when you probably feel like you have very little control.  You may not be able to control the bad thing that is happening in your life, but that does not mean that you are powerless.  You always have the power to help others.  When we serve others, that is God working through us.  And what could be more energizing than having God use your life for good?  Nothing.  So instead of focusing on your problems or worries, focus on how you can serve.

For example, recently, my husband was hospitalized. His medical condition was very serious, and I could have allowed the situation to overwhelm me.  But instead, every day when I went to the hospital, I made myself useful.  I helped the nurses with his care, I tidied up his room, and I made sure to research his medical condition so that I could fully understand what the doctors were telling me.  By focusing on being helpful, I was able to redirect my energies toward something positive – serving my husband – versus something negative – worrying.

Be Kind:  Often, when we are under pressure, we aren’t at our best.  We are impatient or irritable.  We lash out at others, instead of biting our tongues.  But that kind of behavior helps no one.  When we are rude or mean, the only thing that we accomplish is to hurt others.  And others then (appropriately) view us as immature and lacking in basic self-control and manners.

When we face difficult situations, God is testing our character to see how we will respond. Will we take out our troubles on other people?  Or, will we show ourselves to be emotionally mature?  Will we be kind to others, no matter how we are feeling at the moment?  The mark of mature people is that they hold themselves to the highest standard of behavior, regardless of the circumstances.  Tough times are an opportunity to show your maturity by treating others well, in spite of whatever stresses you may be experiencing.

Behave Responsibly: It is easy when under stress to make excuses and let your responsibilities slide.  But letting your house become a mess, failing to pay your bills and unnecessarily missing days of work is not going to help matters.  It is only going to make matters worse.  Instead, to the extent possible, try to stay organized.

In times of high stress, it is easy to be forgetful. Making “To Do” Lists is key, as is doing tasks that you’d rather avoid.  For example, paying bills is stressful.  But missed payments will create a whole world of problems that you won’t need in the future.  Similarly, it may be tempting to take a leave of absence from work, but forgoing income is going to hurt you in the end.  Better to meet your work responsibilities, keep your job and avoid going into debt.  Moreover, your decision to meet your job responsibilities, even when you have personal issues, will not go unnoticed by your supervisors.  That kind of dedication is the hallmark of great employees.

All that being said, if you do make mistakes, be easy on yourself. No one goes through hard times perfectly.  If you have ever been through a divorce or have experienced the loss of a loved one, you’ll wish that you had done certain things differently.  That is to be expected.  We are all human, and stress is hard to manage for everyone.  But ultimately, the goal is to come out of hard experiences as well as possible, with your life still intact, having grown in maturity, patience and compassion.  That means being very aware of how you operate when under stress.

If you are going through a stressful time, consider applying some of the above ideas. Realize that “this too shall pass,” as all hard times do.  Knowing that your stress is temporary, try to use the experience as an opportunity to grow as a person.  Use it as an opportunity to develop your maturity and character.  You may not see the benefits now, but you will see them in the future.

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