A truly Christlike walk is the deep desire of every Christian, and yet so difficult to those of us tempted by firstworld abundance, or beset by the unexpected trials and tragedies of life. Helen Cepero’s book, Christ-Shaped Character, is like an open-hearted, affirming conversation with your own personal spiritual director. Cepero, an adjunct instructor at the North Park Theological Seminary and Multnomah School of the Bible, trains spiritual directors and is a frequent retreat leader. She has an immediate, engaging writing style that draws you in. Her personal stories not only engage you because she makes herself vulnerable to you, but help you to put your own stories into a Christlike perspective. By showing us that the everyday experiences of our lives provide deep insight into God’s purposes, she invites us to work daily to put our experiences into that perspective. Attending a middle school band concert and listening to the children’s fumbling attempts, she realizes that God is not at all like the band director who may roll his eyes at every mistake, but is much more to be found in the rapt, loving eyes of the parents who watch their children try their best. If only we could really rest in the truth, that God loves us not for how well we do, but simply because we are his children.
Using 1 Corinthians 13:13 as her guide, Cepero structures her book on the guiding truths of love, faith, hope. The Love section encourages us to rest in the fact that God loves us not for how well we do, but for who we are; to be completely open to the fact that God also loves every person we meet, so they are truly our brothers; and to recognize that everyone is as flawed as we are, and yet as beloved by God as we are. The Faith section asks the intriguing question: What if the ‘thing’ that God wants us to ‘do’ is to satisfy our deepest desire; the longing for More that all of us have? Cepero encourages us to accept our brokenness, our deepest failures, our skeletons-in-the-closet; surrendering them to God, and surrendering the self-involvement that they create; realizing that we will fail, but we must persevere. It is not about how much we do, but if we do it in God’s will, it is enough.
The Hope section seems to begin a bit off topic: adjuring us to be present in the moment and really appreciate the events and people in our lives. We all feel the need to be busy, but being busy can suck the joy and even the significance of events and people out of our awareness. We can also beat ourselves up so much for our failures that we don’t see the blessings of life. Cepero assures us that God isn’t pretending that we have worth in his eyes. When we live in Christ’s light, it reveals that there are possibilities of Christlikeness in each of us. Relaxed in the love of Christ, we can live a life of readiness to accept and act on his will whenever it appears in our lives. Love, faith and hope must be practiced to become habits that uphold us in times of chaos and upheaval.
With the exercises in each chapter for prayer, group activities, meditation questions, and journaling, this book would work well for small group studies. The exercise on forgiving is especially powerful and can be used any time we have to confront injustice in our lives. The acceptance that true forgiveness does not come easy is helpful and affirming. Cepero provides a real sense of hope, hope that we can persevere to achieve the kind of love that God has planned for us; but consistently reminds us that it is a process, a daily exercise, a life work, to forgive, to love, to build our faith.