Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Children Need to Experience Difficulties

I think every child/teen should get to experience what my 15 year old did last week. He was able to experience something that most of us will never have the opportunity to—and frankly, knowing the details, would probably choose not to.

The truth is we are a spoiled people. We are so used to convenience; instant cash, coffee, food, and the list goes on; and being handed things, that we hardly know what it is to go without. After all, if we have to wait more than 3 minutes for our fries, how many of us are quick to complain? Or if our beloved gadget breaks, how many of us have almost a nervous breakdown?

My son had to go through eight days without his modern conveniences. He was without his Xbox, guitar, cell phone and access to his family and friends. He didn’t get to sleep in until his usual time of Noon. Instead, he was woken every morning at 5 a.m. And it wasn’t by his sweet mother (yes, that’s me) delivering him a bowl of cereal. No, it was it to lights being turned on and shouts of having 10 minutes to brush your teeth and get dressed.

In case you don’t know, my son belongs to an organization called Civil Air Patrol, which is the official civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force. The cadet program provides opportunity for growth in leadership, promotions and education in aviation. He has learned about integrity, respect and obedience to those in authority. It has made a real difference in his character.

On Friday, August 21st he graduated from Civil Air Patrol’s summer encampment. It was a nine day (for him only eight days since we got an early release for him) introduction to the structure and mission of both the U.S. Air Force and CAP within a military atmosphere. Part of the learning experience was hands-on activities that were designed to promote teamwork, along with developing their social and leadership skills.

My husband and I had driven the 8 ½ hours it took to get to Little Falls, Minnesota so we could enjoy the graduation ceremonies. My first glimpse of him, after a long eight days without any word from him, was as he was in formation. His “flight” marched in preparation for the Pass & Review parade. I took one look at his face and I was shocked to see utter exhaustion. I had never seen him look so incredibly tired.

Later that night, when he returned to our hotel with us after the awards banquet, he shared what he called the longest eight days of his life. Not only was he awoken early each morning, but the day was filled with activities, most especially things like drill, learning how to make hospital corners, how to take care of your uniform (which includes pressing the shirt and pants and polishing the shoes), marching in formation, classroom, and other hands-on activities. It was go, go, go. He said that one day felt like two. He would eat lunch and think it was dinner, only to realize he had only gotten through half the day.

They would go non-stop until lights out at 10 p.m. Then for two nights he had to serve guard duty—one night from 10 p.m. to Midnight and another night from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. He missed quite a bit of sleep on those nights and said that during classroom time, he was falling asleep. So he would have to stand at the side of the classroom to keep from falling asleep. He was given a real work over!

Now lest you think it was only a week of torture, he had some great moments, too. He was able to fly a 172 Cessna (and that meant taking over the controls completely), use a tank simulator that the soldiers on base actually use for practice, participate in a confidence course and witness other memorable things such as a tank driving by while he was eating. He also made some new friends. He loved the activities during the week but hated the lack of sleep.

I think he learned a lot about himself that week…that he can do more than he thought he was capable of. And even if he doesn’t realize it, I believe he also learned to appreciate his life. Who wouldn’t after an experience like that? In fact, Saturday afternoon when we finally made it back home, he stepped out of our van and said, “If I didn’t hate dirt, I would kiss the ground right now.”

As I have had opportunity to think about everything he went through, it has made me feel so incredibly proud of him. I have also come to realize that he experienced something that will stick with him for a long time. If he does decide to join the Air Force, he knows better what to expect. If he doesn’t join, he has still learned valuable lessons that I think all children could benefit from.

How quick are we to try and make our children’s lives so comfortable that we fail to see the need for them to experience discomfort and yes, sometimes even pain. I am definitely one of those moms that would much prefer to rescue my child from any sort of pain. I would love to solve all of their problems. But as they have gotten older, I have come to realize more and more the importance of them going through the rough times.

It is during the difficult moments in life that we learn the greatest lessons. It is when our faith is tested, our character is molded and we discover how very much we cannot make it on our own. To miss all of that is to miss some of the greatest blessings that our children could ever receive. Life is not handed to us on a silver platter. It has highs and lows, mountaintop experiences and moments in the valley. We have to learn how to make our way through all of it.

Next week my oldest will be going into 10th grade. He only has three years of high school left—a short amount of time to begin planning and preparing for his future. These are crucial years for him. My middle child will be entering 7th grade…in the midst of those sometimes turbulent middle school years, there will be opportunity for a lot of growing, change and difficulties. My youngest is at the end of his elementary school years, going into 5th grade. This is a time of where there is that pull between still being a little child and wanting to become more independent.

Like it or not, they are probably all three going to experience some difficulties this upcoming school year. I have no idea what they could be but I do know that anything that comes their way is for their good, and not their harm. And guess what? I know that I need to stand to the side. I need to let them work through it. I can’t rescue them or solve their problems. But what I can do is be there for them…to encourage and support them. I can offer my wisdom when and if it’s called for. But most important of all, I can pray for them.

Mom, it is okay for your child to experience pain, difficulties and challenges. Remember all the things that you have gained from the same troubles in your own life. But most of all, remember that your child is not alone. He/she has the greatest Helper, Counselor, Advocate, Friend that they could ever hope for—the Lord Jesus Christ.

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