Wednesday, July 3, 2013

All In for the Big Jump

A couple of years ago, Dana and I spent the weekend at a beautiful lodge in Mt. Magazine State Park.  Mt. Magazine is known for being the highest point in Arkansas, bears, butterflies, and hang gliding.  While we were there, I watched two hang gliders launch into a two-thousand feet drop and fly until they looked like small birds.

"Clark Kent"
The two men hang gliding were friendly, so I learned some things. I learned that people who hang glide are different. One was a mild-mannered Clark Kent type and the other a Mountain Man. Mountain Man came to the edge, went through his checklist quickly, ran a few steps, and jumped.  Clark Kent was methodical, carefully examining each strap and bar, and waiting for seven or eight minutes for the wind to blow straight into his launch.  He rode the updrafts a lot longer than Mountain Man.

I also learned how much they had prepared.  To do this somewhat difficult jump, you had to already have ten hours of flight time, which takes a lot of five and ten minute jumps. They learned to hang glide by running on flat land with no equipment.  Then running on flat land holding the metal brackets.  Then, with wings.  Then, they got a small rise to jump from.  Bigger and longer each time. They worked hard to prepare, to become strong.  One of the gliders said, "We really aren't afraid because of all of the preparation that got us ready."

When Joshua led Israel to claim the Promised Land, God told him three times to be "strong and courageous."  The generation before had not claimed the special place God had for them because of fear.  The spies of that generation had reported that the Land was special just as God had said.  But,there were big people there.  Their fear kept them from having the best God offered and this special place was given to someone else.  Joshua's conquest needed what the first generation lacked: strength and courage.

The hang gliders were strong, they had prepared well enough that they had confidence in their jump. It would still be dangerous, but they had the courage to come up to the edge and be all in because of their mental and physical strength developed through hours of practice and training.  The hard work of preparation, becoming strong, is a key to giving children courage.  Courage comes from knowing you are ready for the challenge.  Strength gives courage for the challenge.

How do we prepare our children?  Help them to increasingly understand that strength is up to them, not something you can do for them.  While a coach can set up a training plan for a player to lift weights, it is up to the player to lift and work.  Show children that the hard work of preparation pays off, whether in preparing for a test, an athletic contest, or a concert.  Give them small experiences as they are young and larger jumps as they get older, just like the preparation for the hand gliders.  Show them hard work in your life.  Don't help them look for shortcuts or complain that teachers are too hard on them. Support them, but let them see what preparation feels like and how it pays off.

Help them think about the importance of becoming strong in a variety of areas.  The things that schools traditionally do--like reading, writing, speaking, and reasoning--prepare children for many of the challenges they face in our culture; if they feel strong in these, they will have courage to enter the work force, pursue other training, and engage with people.

But, don't stop there.  Try these.
* Social skills and strength in getting along with people. How can they prepare for working with others?
* Emotional strength: are they comfortable with themselves. How can you help them see themselves rightly?
* Physical health keeps a child and adult able to face challenges of all sorts.
* Spiritual strength:  A right relationship with God helps children know why they are here and gives purpose and courage.

As you pray and look at your child, periodically evaluate strengths and areas that could use attention.  Encourage them with comments about their strengths.  And, normally for areas that need growth, it is better to not tell them (that is discouraging) but sneakily plan and help growth. (For example, if a child is not physically strong, maybe Dad starts biking with her, making it a fun time with Dad instead of a remedial training experience--look for positive, relational ways to strengthen weak areas.)

And, one more area of strength that is of particular importance to courage:  strength of character. Todd Beamer, the 9/11 hero who helped overcome the hijackers of United Airlines Flight 93 before it could reach its target, was "known for his strength of character and leadership in everything he did" (excerpted from the Wheaton Academy Connection).  Todd was the one who said, "Are you guys ready?  Let's roll."  Todd's strength of character, his hard work, and his "rare ability to subjugate his own benefit for that of the team" prepared Todd for his unexpected need for courage.  (For an example of strength and courage, you can read Todd's story to your older children in Let's Roll by his wife, Lisa.)

As we help our children gain strength so they are ready for their call, let's praise them for hard work and character, things that won't fade.  Let's help them see the benefits of preparation by connecting their work with success.  Let's think about their areas of strength and weakness and find subversive and pleasant ways to build their weaknesses in their spiritual, social, physical, and emotional growth. 

Let's help them build strength of character that is ready for the unexpected, so they can answer God's call to what He has planned for them, ready to be all in like the hang gliders.  There is nothing more beautiful than a life lived faith to faith, rich and abundant, with strength and courage to jump and enjoy the flight.

(If you would like to see the beauty of what happens after the jump, click here:Airtime at Mt. Magazine. While you are watching, maybe you can ask yourself if God is trying to get you to "be all in" and jump toward something important and beautiful, has He prepared you and now you are at the edge while He is talking to you or giving you a push?)

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