C.S. Lewis wrote, "We are born helpless. As soon as we are fully conscious, we discover loneliness... Our whole being by its very nature is one vast need; incomplete, preparatory, empty, yet cluttered, crying out for Him who can untie things that are now knotted together and tie up things that are still dangling loose." In other words - we need God. Desperately.
I remember when my son started 6th grade. He is our oldest and so our first middle schooler, and he was definitely feeling some anxiety about the new year. We had a great summer full of activity, and we spent time talking about all the new experiences and exciting opportunities middle school would provide. I remember thinking to myself, "He is SO ready!"
A few days before the first day of school, my daughters were doing somersaults in the living room. My son decides to join them, thinking his sisters' forward rolls look easy and it would require little effort on his part to do the same. He pointedly ignores the fact each sister has a couple years of gymnastics experience - hence the easy looking rollie-pollies.
After his first couple of attempts, my son stands up and rubs his lower back and looks at his sisters with a little more respect. His method of execution was to flip his upper body over his head onto the floor instead of gently curving his back into a roll. It looked like it hurt - A LOT. After a few tries, and then more attempts with sisterly coaching, he decides somersaults are not for him. I, secretly in agreement with him, think that is the end of that.
The next day I find my son in the living room on his back, trying to figure out how to complete a perfect forward roll. Being particularly pain avoidant myself, I say - "Uh, Why?". He proceeds to inform me that he is starting 6th grade in two days and he just knows for sure part of the requirements are to complete a somersault and he is going to be completely humiliated because he can't do one. Huh? The dialogue goes a little something like this-
Me: "So, where did you get the idea you need to know how to do a somersault?"
Son: "Well, it just makes sense. It's going to be a part of PE or something. I just know it."
Me: "Huh, I've actually never heard of that before."
Son: Now looking a little more emotionally distressed, "Mom, it's part of middle school. I just know it."
Me: "I'm pretty sure that is not the case."
Son: "It IS the case. I just know it."
"I just know it" is thrown my way several times, and I have absolutely no idea where this understanding of middle school is coming from. This was not a part of any conversation with my son before his sisters spent the evening completing somersaults in the living room the night before. Stupid gymnastics.
The next couple of days we revisit the somersault discussion off and on, and my son continues to half-heartedly receive lessons from his sisters. It becomes apparent his back really does not bend well that way, but there is just no convincing him he does not need to know how to execute a forward roll. What he does know is he is going to be humiliated. And that's it, end of discussion. The only way to change his mind is to drop him off at school and let him experience the lack of somersault requirements himself.
Day one of school arrives. I drop all three kiddos off, assuring my son AGAIN that he will not have to complete a somersault in middle school. But hey, I'm cool. Life lessons, right? He will spend the day at school minus a forward roll, come home, admit mama knows best, and then all is right with the world. And that is how things go - on Day 1.
After the second day of school my son runs through the door after riding the bus home. He walks into the kitchen, puts his backpack on the table and looks at me with one hand on the island counter and the other on his hip. Then he says very firmly, "Guess what?".
Son: With deep, purposeful stare into my eyes. "No really, guess what?!?"
Me: Looking at him as he is practically vibrating with a story to tell. All of a sudden it hits me and I'm like... "NOOOO!"
Me: "You had to do a somersault at school??!!"
Son: "Yep, in Theater Arts!"
Me: "Theater Arts?? Seriously??" Because he actually didn't want to take Theater Arts in the first place, but it's the only credit for Fine Arts he feels he has any reasonable chance of passing.
Son: "Yes! Because we had to play a game."
Me: Doing some motherly-assessing of the boy-child's mood, "A game??"
Son: "We all stood around the room in a really big circle. Then, one at a time we had to say our name and then do some kind of action to stand for our name, and then the next person had to say the last person's name plus their action to go with their name. Each person that went had to say all the names and actions of all the people that went before them."
Me: Seeing where this is going and just nodding and seriously trying really hard not to laugh. "Okay, so I'm thinking..."
Son: "Yes! So, Taylor decided she was going to do a SOMERSAULT to go with her name!"
Me: Smiling pretty hard now, cause through my boy-child-mood-assessing-skills I'm noticing he doesn't seem all that upset or broken hearted. "And so, how did it go??"
Son: "Well, the bad thing is - I can't do a somersault. So, you know..."
Me: Nodding. Cause yes, I did know.
Son: "But the good thing is - Taylor went second so pretty much the WHOLE class had to try and do a roll, and guess what mom!?!"
Son: Laughing. "None of the boys could do one, and even a bunch of the girls couldn't do somersaults either! It was awesome and so funny!" Laughing harder now - because there's such JOY in mutual deficiency.
At this point I'm thinking there has to be a purposeful life-lesson from God in here somewhere because really, what are the odds? So I, in my infinite wisdom, ask, "Okay, is there something we can learn here?"
Son: Looking like he totally predicted this question was coming. "I learned YOU are not always right. Hah!" Finger pointing at mom included. He's absolutely gleeful.
Me: Laughing pretty hard now. Proving me wrong was a solid motivation for him continuing this conversation. "Well, yes.... true. But that's actually my lesson, that is not YOUR lesson."
Son: "Really? It's not?" Looking at me and squinting. "It's not my lesson?"
Me: "No, it's not your lesson."
Son: "Weeellll, can it be my lesson?? Cause that's an easy one." Puts his hand flat on his chest for emphasis, "For me."
Me: "Nope. It is definitely mine. Not yours. And by the way - knowing I'm not always right is actually not that hard a lesson to learn anymore." I put my hand over my heart, "For me. Since I'm old and I've had lots of practice."
Son: Laughing cause this is how we are and it's so fun. "Seriously?" Big sigh. "Fine, what's the big 'lesson'?" He actually puts up quotations with his fingers.
Me: "How much did you worry about this over the past few days?"
Son: "A LOT!" Arms wide, "And now I don't have to worry anymore!"
Me: "Did all your worry make a difference? Could you have changed anything?"
Son: Thinks.... "Uh, no." Then thinks some more. "But, if I had started worrying in June, I could have had a perfect somersault down by August."
Life-lessons are never perfectly packaged because they are as imperfect as we are. There are so many lessons to learn from just this one piece of my son's story, it's hard to pick them all apart and do the learning justice. God uses seemingly inconsequential life experiences to guide us, to disciple and sanctify us. It is up to us to pay attention, to find joy in how we learn through our failures and deficiencies. Smaller lessons to provide experience for the bigger ones to come.
And I don't think I will EVER forget Taylor's name.
What followed those random and rather intense few days of my son's worry were some amazing discussions about borrowing trouble and fear about tomorrow (it doesn't take a psychologist to figure out the idea of starting 6th grade created a lot of anxiety that my son piled on to his lack of somersaulting ability). But God took my son's anxiety and made something fun and beautiful out of it. It's still a story we talk about to this day. We are not in control of our tomorrows. However, our todays help shape what our tomorrows will become, but if we fear tomorrow so much it steals our today how can we possibly use our todays to shape our tomorrows? Yikes. It's a vicious cycle.
The "What If's" we create for our futures can steal our present. On some level we all play the "What If" game to work our world for the personal benefit of ourselves and those we love. This game provides potential for two trains of thought: Train 1) we "what if" our decisions as a source of wisdom and foresight. We ask friends for depth in our decision making and we take sound advice as we balance our options. Or Train 2) we "what if" ourselves into paralysis. We are so afraid of the outcome of a bad choice, we do nothing or second guess everything. We measure the correctness of a decision based on the consequences of that decision, therefore EVERY choice requires an unsustainable level of "what if" thinking. And although God actually warns us that doing the right thing does not always lead to comfortable circumstances, we tend to ignore his Word when making decisions via Train 2.
If we are not careful, our anxieties become paralyzing instead of informative. Our failures become crippling head games instead of teachable moments. Walking through this earthly life with a view of our eternal one means putting everything in its proper place. We cannot run away from our desperate need for God, our mistake is when we elevate feelings, possessions, or relationships into the place where only God should be. Emptiness, loneliness, worry, fear, anxiety, and sadness are all part of life here. But, they don't need to be crippling.
As believers we have a Savior we can turn to, our provider of peace that surpasses understanding because He is there in all our circumstances. Whether there is a somersault requirement or not.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not
your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27
Today's podcast is a discussion with Life Coach Katina Wilkins. We discuss the "What Ifs", and how to move forward day-to-day with a clear understanding of God's love, sovereignty and control. Go here to listen to the Noisy Narratives Podcast with Katina.