This little note appeared on a board outside a playground at the local park I visited the other day (see previous post):
Life is full of challenges and we want to help children grow into strong, healthy and confident adults. This play equipment has lots of opportunities to teach children how to take measured risks and to overcome obstacles. Learning that if you fall you can brush yourself down and get back on is a valuable life lesson.
Given that children today are, arguably, over-protected and mollycoddled, it was very good to see the grown-ups being encouraged to allow their children to take a few risks and even experience a few falls along the way.
But it occurs to me that the message of this note applies just as much to us grown-ups as it does to the children…
Life is full of challenges…
And don’t we know it! Challenges at home; challenges at work; challenges with finances; challenges with health; challenges with growing children; challenges with ageing parents; challenges with purpose; challenges with faith; challenges with life… the universe… everything!
Truth be told, little children probably face more challenges than we do as adults. Everything is new, and they have so much growing and learning to do. Eating, crawling, walking, talking, drawing, counting, writing… New people, new places, new skills, new subjects… All whilst growing and changing physically, and all within the space of just a few years. Imagine having to contend with that as an adult!
But, as we get older we become more aware of the challenges, and perhaps increasingly wearied of having to tackle them. The challenges we face can certainly seem harder to surmount and the outcomes less under our control and the consequences of failure more far-reaching.
Take measured risks…
Little children are by nature inquisitive and adventurous – and don’t always fully appreciate the risks inherent in what they are attempting. One of the main roles of a parent or carer is to protect their child from undue harm, whilst allowing and encouraging them to stretch their wings and explore their world and learn and grow. It can be a difficult balance to find.
But as adults we can suffer from the opposite problem. We are all too aware of the risks in the world. We hear all about them in the news. We experience them in our own lives. We know what could go wrong. We imagine far worse. We know how much we have to lose. And so we stick to our well-worn paths. We stop exploring. We stop stretching. We stop growing. And, if we’re not careful, we stagnate.
We need to continue to take measured risks. Not to be irresponsible, but not to be over-cautious either. We need to treat ourselves like little children. Protected, but not over-protected. Encouraged to explore and learn and grow – and even experience a few falls along the way.
Every journey – be that physical, symbolic or spiritual – has its obstacles: things that block the way and prevent or hinder progress.
Whenever we encounter such obstacles we have a choice: we can stop; we can go backwards; we can change direction; or we can find a way to continue on.
Whilst it might be beneficial to pause awhile on our journey, and rest, and take stock, if we stop too long we start to stagnate. So what then?
Without doubt there are times when it is right to retrace our steps (if we’ve taken a wrong turn) or take another route (if one is available). But there are also times when we just have to face the obstacle and find a way to overcome it.
The more obstacles we overcome in our lives, the more we learn how to overcome, the more we grow in strength to overcome, and the more we gain the confidence to overcome.
If you fall you can brush yourself down and get back on…
But, of course, we won’t always succeed. Sometimes we’ll bite off more than we can chew. We’ll attempt something that really is beyond us (at the time, at least). Sometimes the obstacles that we encounter – both those of our choosing and those that life throws at us – will be too much for us to overcome. What then?
Then, just like the little children in the playground, we brush ourselves down and get back on…
Of course, the falls we suffer as adults may be much harder than a child’s tumble in a playground. But the truth still applies. There’s nothing to be gained by staying down on the ground.
In the words of the well known song by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields:
Take a deep breath…
Pick yourself up…
Dust yourself off
And start all over again.
And for those with the faith to receive it, there is this promise:
The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. (Deuteronomy 33:27a)
Even when we fall, no matter how far we fall, God is there to catch us – just like a loving parent in the playground.
So let’s learn from the little children – let’s take measured risks and overcome obstacles – and fall… and brush ourselves down… and get back on again.