Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Where's your joy?

So, I've probably said it before, but I'm convinced that we have kids so God can get through to us.

My oldest daughter picked up a new sport (flat water kayak racing) last year, and we have quickly become advocates of this relatively unknown sport in our country as well as the outstanding program that is being run out of our small town.

Rylee paddling her very own racing kayak for the first time
There really isn't much not to love.  Hanging out around the water to watch your child compete in a sport she can literally do for her entire life, being part of a nationally recognized program (national champions for two years running), having the opportunity for your child to compete in an Olympic sport... It's pretty ideal, but it isn't easy.  These aren't the kayaks most people are used to seeing.  They are not designed to stay upright without work.  They are designed for straight-line speed.  I've been in a TK (Training Kayak - like water skiing on two skis before learning slalom) three times now for about a total of 2 hours and I've flipped in seven times just paddling around the dock.  It's humbling, but I'm getting better.

Beyond the fun that I'm having though, one of the most valuable things about it so far has been the conversations kayaking has allowed between me and my daughter.  I have loved trying to help her process through the frustrations of learning a brand new sport while overcoming the fear of failure, a fear made even more pronounced by the added apprehension of being dumped into the 50 degree water of the Puget Sound should you make a mistake in form or concentration.  This has been a rewarding and challenging experience for my daughter.  Especially since she is accustomed to excelling in her chosen activities.

But the most valuable piece has been for me personally.  In speaking with my daughter about trials and perseverance, God has been speaking to me about the same things.  As I am helping my daughter walk through this kayaking experience, God has been reminding me of James 1:2-4 "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." and Romans 8:28 "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

Okay, confession time: I have never liked these verses in James.  I know we aren't supposed to admit that. I know they represent wisdom and maturity, but really!?  "When you are going through crap, don't forget to have good time!  Enjoy it.  Be Happy."  I just have never understood this one.  Pain is not something to be happy about.  Pain can be mastered.  It can be tolerated and persevered through, but where is the joy in that?

We took road trips when I was young and inevitably there was some kind of knock-down, drag-out fight as the tensions of being in the car together finally boiled over.  It would invariably surface around a stop that was high on my dad's list, and he just wanted some peace to enjoy the best piece of pie in Wichita or the largest house made entirely of beer cans west of the Mississippi or something really breathtaking and rare like deer.  About this time he would tell us to be quiet "for the hundredth time", direct us out of the car toward the aforementioned attraction, and forcefully remind us that "You are going to have fun whether you like it or not!"  Tell me how that makes any sense.  (Okay, confession time number 2: Yes, I have said this to my kids.)

James 1:2-4 has always sounded like God saying that to me.  "Joel, here's what I want you to do.  Ready? Okay.  When you are unhappy, be happy.  Got it?  Good."

But finally God has gotten through to me.  It took kayaking and conversations with my daughter, but I finally think I get it.  My daughter has been dumped in the Sound more times than she can count.  She has come home cold and frustrated and defeated from practice at least as many times, and through this I've really had to grow up.  My natural inclination is to tell her, "Suck it up.  Just get through it," because that's what I do. However, I've learned with my own TK (Training Kid - my daughter) that she doesn't respond well to that advice, and by "not well" I mean that she does exactly what I've told her to do: she sucks it up and gets through it.

And that kills me as a dad.  I see the breakthroughs and the little victories and the distance she has come.  I see the improvement and the perseverance in the midst of difficulty and and am filled with love and pride for my daughter, and because she is "sucking it up," all she sees is the pain. She misses out on the process.  She misses the growth.  She misses the joy.

Uh oh.  There it is.  The aha moment.

Bad things happen.  There will be trials.  We will get dumped in the Sound, and we will be shocked by the icy cruelty and the overwhelming depth and the perceived hopelessness of our circumstances, but "in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."  For even in the midst of the trial, God is there.  He carries us, or walks with us, or prods us to run, and if we keep our eyes on him and don't fall into the trap of just "getting through it," there is something amazing that happens: Peace. And Hope. And Joy.

Pure joy.  Because the trials that we go through are not the end of the story.  They are just a piece of it. They are not to be simply "gotten through" so we can return to our lives.  They are an important part of the lives we are living and of the persons we are becoming.  Even so, they do not define us, because we are defined by the one who walks with us and guides us through them.

So, I've learned to emphasize what my dad-eyes see in my daughter.  I've learned to talk to her about the victories within the journey.  I encourage her to keep her eyes focused on the prize.  I help her to avoid getting overwhelmed by the moment, but to maintain the very real hope of life after the trial. I remind her that she is not alone and that I will help her in any way I can or in any way in which she will allow me. And I assure her that when she completes this present trial, when "perseverance finishes its work," she will be stronger, more mature, more refined, and better than when she started.  In fact, she already is.

Thanks God.

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