Christ and the Stoics, Part 5. (Virtues)

One of my favorite scenes from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland is a conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat. The conversation essentially goes like this:

Cat: Where are you going?
Alice: Which way should I go?
Cat: Well that depends on where you are going.
Alice: I don’t know.
Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.

Sometimes I think our lives look like Alice in that scene, wandering aimlessly as if our lives our automated by some unknown forces that are outside of control. Because we don't have a clear vision for who we want to be or where we want to go, the path we are one doesn't really matter.

Growing up, I was fascinated with the idea of a family Coat of Arms. A shield with images and colors and a motto that said, "This is who we are and this is what we are about." We see these prevalent in the Game of Thrones books and show, but I first was fascinated when reading books like Once and Future King, playing Warhammer, and going to Medieval Times and renaissance fairs. I was a nerd, ok?

Now that I'm a man with a family of my own, Ashley and I have defined a few key values that we want our family to be about. Values that shape us and direct us. Those values are Curiosity (a hunger to learn more about God, ourselves, others, and creation), Humility (putting others before ourselves, having accurate self-awareness, and being grateful for the blessings in our lives), and Generosity (being willing to share those blessings in order to help others whether that's with our finances, our time, or our experience.) 

Followers of Jesus are also given a sort of moral code to live by. They are generally called "the fruits of the Spirit," but a better way of saying it is this- "A person that follows Jesus should be easily identified by the following virtues- love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, faithfulness, and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23)  If a 'Christian' isn't demonstrating these virtues, then they aren't living up to the family code. And if your reading of the Scriptures doesn't lead you to embody one of those virtues in a fuller way, then you misread it. Try again.

The Stoics have a similar emphasis on being virtuous. While their four key virtues are wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance (self-control), they often point to other values as well. Marcus Aurelius wrote, "Display these qualities in your own power: honesty, dignity, endurance, chastity, contentment, frugality, kindness, freedom, persistence, avoiding gossip, and magnanimity." (Meditations, 5.5)

I think it's important to have a clear set of values that you want to prioritize in your life. Something that shapes who you are and what you want to be about. These can serve as a mirror to expose when you aren't measuring up. They can serve as a compass to guide you when you need to make a decision. They can serve as an anchor when you feel your emotions are getting the best of you and pulling you away from the things you want to value and desire the most.