Last Friday night, my heart hurt. Not my real heart, of course. My emotional heart; my lebab. Lebab is the Hebrew word for heart, meaning "the deepest part of who you are." Why did the deepest part of who I am hurt? Because my daughter was thrown into the "deep end" of her peer group. My tiny daughter (God bless her... She's got both of our genes) was asked to step up to a higher level of gymnastics and compete with kids who are taller, stronger, and more mature than her. And, she sensed it. She knew it. She was so overwhelmed as she prepared to take the floor that she grabbed my hand, her lebab beating desperately, and she looked at me at with fear-filled eyes, "Dad... I don't want to go."
Her face screamed, "I'm not ready! They're so much bigger than me!" Inside, I was thinking, "I know, Natalie. They are bigger than you. They are better than you. You will be the smallest. You will be scared. You will feel overwhelmed. I'm sorry."
"Dad, please save me! I don't want to go."
"Natalie, I know."
"Natalie, I know!"
At this point, every fiber in my being wanted to rescue her, hold her, pick her up, and carry her to safety. And, believe me, I wanted to. But, as much as I wanted to rescue her, I want her to be challenged. I want her to know what it means to be overwhelmed. I want her to know what it means to have to overcome adversity. I want her to develop the intestinal fortitude necessary to hit life's problems head-on. So, I said..."Nat...You can do this." I let go of her hand and she hesitantly walked onto the mat, my lebab hurting.
Why did I let her go and not rescue her? I let Nat go because there was a much larger battle taking place than whether or not Nat could handle a higher level of gymnastics. The larger battle had to do with whether or not Nat could learn how to handle adversity. James 1.2 says that we are to consider it “pure joy” when we face adversity or “tests” because such “tests” “develop perseverance” and that developing perseverance leads to maturity. In my work as a pastor, and in my former work as coach and athletic director, I see and have seen parents many times step in to rescue their children from adversity. Believe me, I understand the temptation. However, a greater damage is done to that child if they are not allowed to face adversity. The greater damage occurs because we, as caregivers, rob them of the opportunities to develop the necessary muscles they need to not only face or survive adversity, but to push through and even thrive in adversity. If we, as parents and guardians, do not allow our children to face the adversity of a gymnastics class, tough homework assignment, or being held accountable for not doing that homework assignment, how can we expect our children to one day leave home and face the adversities of work expectations, tight finances, sick children, etc? As James so necessarily stated, we cannot develop maturity unless we face tests. We are hindering our children’s development if we keep them from the very tests they need to face in order to mature.
Fast forward to another moment that I pray takes place approximately twelve years from now. Tara and I have loaded Natalie into her college dorm room and it is time to leave. At that moment, I pray that Natalie will have developed enough faith, intestinal fortitude and maturity to hit college head-on. However, even if she has, there will most likely be a moment when she looks at me and Tara and I will be transported back to last Friday night. I will see the six year old little girl and my lebab will hurt. And, I will want to rescue her, but I will also know that the best thing for Natalie is to let go and trust; trust her, trust the way we raised her, and ultimately trust God to take care of her. Then, because she has faced adversity time and time again, I pray that she changes the world. (But for now, I pray those twelve years crawl along ;)
I pray that parents and guardians everywhere are wise enough and trusting enough to let children face appropriate levels of adversity. Their future is at stake and so are the futures of our families, communities, country and world.
Paul is the husband to Tara, father to Natalie and Isaac, has an average jump shot, and enjoys running. His secret wish is to one day become a Jedi Knight. Paul holds a doctorate in marriage and family counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and currently serves as senior pastor of Hardinsburg Baptist Church. Paul desires to help young couples navigate the early crucibles of marriage, especially when one or both of the spouses are engaged in vocational ministry.