Monday, October 27, 2014

The Proving Ground

"He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed trusting in the Lord."

Psalm 112:7

"My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise."

Psalm 57:7

"Evil tidings"... When bad news, or difficult situations come your way, what is your reaction? Recently, I found myself reacting to bad news, and a difficult situation, opposite from the admonition of these verses. Instead of trusting in the Lord, I questioned Him. Instead of my fixed-heart singing and praising, I cried and complained. As I wondered why I had pouted my way through another struggle, my thoughts went to a playground full of children... .

The Coley Family 1996
In our early ministry life, my husband was an assistant pastor, and we both taught in our Christian school. At this particular time, our school had about 350 students, and this was the year that my daughter was in my Second grade class, along with 26 other students. Though everyone knew she was my daughter, we liked being teacher and student while we were at school, and so my daughter would call me "Teacher" instead of "Mom" while I was on duty.

Our Christian school had a great playground that was designed and built by our pastor, so there was nothing like it anywhere else. We had a huge climbing tower, restricted for the big kids in the Third through Sixth grades (8 to 12 year olds) , and a smaller Jungle Jim for the younger children in Kindergarten through Second grades (4 to 7 years olds). There was also an in-between piece of playground equipment that we teachers soon realized was being used as some sort of "proving ground" by the Second grade students. This piece of equipment was the Monkey Bars. Students would climb the three ladder rungs up and then stretch to reach the first bar, which was about seven feet from the ground. After they had firmly gripped the first bar, they would then start to swing their bodies back and forth until they had enough momentum to swing their arm forward and grab onto the next bar. They would continue, grabbing bar after bar until they had reached the other end, which was about twelve feet away. The students who had accomplished this feat, 7 feet up and 12 feet long, were no longer considered to be little kids of the playground, and no one would call them "baby" any more. They had proved their strength and determination to their peers, and their accomplishment was celebrated by all who watched.

One day, while most of the students were playing in the field, I noticed my daughter climbing the first three rungs of the Monkey Bars. This was not her first attempt; she had often climbed up only to become fearful and climb back down. But this time, as another teacher and I looked on, she stretched herself forward and caught the first bar... and then the next... and the next, until she was a third of the way through this "proving ground feat". Then she stopped, and began crying out to me. I could hear the fear in her voice as she cried, "Mommy, help me now!".

I came near to her, but I didn’t touch her. I knew she had just overcome her greatest fear by making it this far onto the bars. I had helped many others students through this "proving ground" test, and I knew she had the strength to finish: I just had to convince her. I told her I wouldn’t let her get hurt and that I was close enough to catch her if she slipped. I even told her to let go and I would catch her, but she wanted me to wrap my arms around her and lift her to safety. She continued kicking and crying, begging me to help her. I told her the strength she was using to pitch-a-fit on the bar was enough to get her across and she needed to use that strength to reach for the next bar.

She finally made it to the other side of the Monkey Bars. The other teacher and I were telling her how well she had done, that she was so brave to keep on going and that we were happy for her accomplishment! But my daughter wasn’t happy. All she said to me was, "Mommy, you were supposed to help me." I could hear the disappointment in her voice, and she walked away frustrated with me. She wasn’t relieved that she had made it safely to the other side. All she focused on was how I hadn’t helped her like she expected me to, and how I hadn’t kept her from being so afraid.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but even as an adult, I sometimes behave just like my daughter. When things on this proving ground of life get tough to deal with, I want my Heavenly Father to wrap His arms around me and lift me to safety. I don’t want to have to continue in the struggle... I don’t want to be afraid. I want help now! Just as my daughter’s playground expectations were disappointed by me, I had to admit that my proving ground experience was similar, and I found myself frustrated with the Lord.

Then I realized, once again, that I had pitched-a-fit when I should have been trusting the Lord. I had wanted help out of the struggle instead of help through the struggle. I wish there was an easier way to learn the lesson expressed in this Psalm, but the lesson of how to fix our heart on the Lord, through difficult situations, can only come while experiencing the difficult situation.

It was another day, and my daughter, surrounded by her peers, climbed the Monkey Bars again. While the children watched, she reached for the first bar. With confidence, she reached for the next bar... and then the next, until she had reached the other side, seven feet up and twelve feet long. Her peers celebrated her accomplishment... and she smiled.

Too often it is forgotten that spiritual strength is built through the struggle. Too often it is forgotten that "the proving ground" of faith is never a comfortable place. But often enough, when the struggle is over, we smile with contentment and a refreshed spirit knowing the Lord was with us all the way through.

"Yea, though I walk through... thou art with me...". Psalms 23:4

(More about Kimberly:
"Growing In Grief"
"The Most Unnatural Thing"
"Too Young to Die"
 "Embracing Grief"
"The Proving Ground"
"What You Don't Know About the Flu can Kill You" )
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