If Lent was a 6 week training program to prepare you for the cross competition, what would you do to train?
I made a wrong turn on my way to a training session. Darn that GPS, it proclaims “you have arrived!” just as you pass the turn. Thankfully, just up the road there was a big church parking lot where I could make a U-turn. On exiting the lot, I was greeted by this sign:
I let the car idle for a moment as I considered this. There, in my training shorts, shoes and sport shirt, was I really entering the mission field?
I have never actually been on a mission trip. Never stood with a group before the congregation to send me off to a distant land to build a church, or to a neighboring state that has experienced devastation, nor even to the inner city to lend a hand to those living in poverty. Could it be that right here, right now, with my little training business in my own community, I was knee deep in mission? Maybe I didn’t need to go on a trip after all.
I wasn’t exactly “called” to Fit2Finish. Not in a voice-from-heaven-that-insisted-I-go way. It’s been more of a constant contact kind of thing. On this day, I was meeting up with Emily, a 16 year old basketball player, who’d had ACL reconstructive surgery in February. We had already had several sessions, but this time we were meeting on the basketball court of a middle school near her home. She had been cleared to return to play, but it would be my first time to meet her father, Roy, who was bringing her. He wasn’t so sure she was ready. What’s so “missional” about this?
I have walked this road before, and it can get rocky in the space between a sporting kid delighted to have permission to return to play and the father who loves them so much it would absolutely kill them to see their child injured again. (Incidentally, the mothers tend to do much better; it’s more often the fathers who wince at the prospect.)
I put Emily through her paces. She runs, jumps, dribbles, and shoots. She stops and starts, pivots and hesitates, and drives the lane for a lay-up. Roy and I both shag balls as we watch, and I make a point to join him under the basket to hear what he’s thinking. His reflective sunglasses prevent my reading his face for cues.
“What do you see?” I ask him. After all, he is the expert. He has been watching this kid since she toddled with a ball.
“How does it feel?” I ask Emily when she jogs over. After all, it’s her body. She knows it inside and out.
I haven’t said a word. Not offered any observations, made any corrections, agreed or disagreed with any statements made. I have just created the circumstance to watch and listen, as father and daughter hear each other out to discover their common ground.
On this sunny day in August, with a cool breeze blowing across the playground, things go smoothly. It’s not always like this. Sometimes there are undertones and misgivings, ushered in with angst and fear. Parents don’t trust their kids. Kids are frustrated with their parents. Parents want to wait. Kids are in a hurry. Parents have expectations. Kids want to meet expectations but they can’t. Sometimes, it gets ugly.
I can’t ever be sure how things will go, but it seems where I’m meant to be. “You are now entering the mission field.” It’s not exactly a “sharing the faith” kind of thing, but I am convinced that somehow, when I put on those training sneakers, I am standing on holy ground.
Funny, as I prepare to shuttle my own 18 year old off to Virginia Tech this week, expanding the space between us and leaving the proverbial “empty nest,” I will especially miss her poignant observations about life. Often, just a few words captioning a drawing in a memory dusted off. In our cleaning out and packing, she has pulled out a book she made as a first grader. On the ‘Meet My Mom’ page, she has written, “(My mom) really likes to tech pepol to stresh.”
I do like to teach people to stretch. Guess I have been at this longer than I thought.
Teaching people to stretch… their limbs, their minds, their lives, toward their goals, their dreams, and toward each other. Now THAT is a mission field. Amazing how those wrong turns remind us.
Run, shoot, pass, dribble, score. Repeat and repeat, calling on the same muscles to do all the work. Do the same the next day, next practice, next game. It seems a reasonable plan for training and improvement. Just keep doing it until we get it right, right?
Well, no. Because each movement is not just the responsibility of one muscle. Oh, there is one muscle in charge; we call that the prime mover. That’s the muscle the gets strengthened when we do it over and over. But there are other team members here. There are the agonists, the helping muscles: smaller role but their additive effect is essential. Then there is the antagonist, the opposing muscle: whose job it is to slow or stop the motion. Finally, there are the stabilizers: the muscles that keep the movement aligned.
So, when we repeat and repeat, the strong get stronger but the weak get weaker. They become less and less able to play their role and balance the movement. This does not stem from an internal ranking system or superiority of performance. They are designed this way with different roles, different contributions, some larger, some smaller, some one direction, some another. There’s a division of labor, by design. We get into trouble when we favor one over the other. Neglect the weak and the strong suffer.
Amazing how even our bodies are designed for community. Favoritism is discouraged. Honoring each for its contribution based on its giftedness is wise. And the weakest and smallest need special attention and special protection. Neglecting these, letting the prime mover rule the roost and demand all the attention disrupts the balance. It’s a recipe for injury for the body.
When small roles are considered unimportant and small contributors considered insignificant, we deny our design. We fall into patterns of disparity, the strong feeling superior, the weak feeling dismissed. Closing this gap is essential for health. Not to bring each muscle into equal strength – that would be disaster for movement. Not to bring each muscle into equal leadership – that would freeze us in our tracks. Just to offer each its due. To train each up into its full potential and to activate it in the way that exerts just the right force at just-right speed in just-right direction with just-right balance, without deviating from the appointed pattern.
Only community can accomplish this. Honored community which recognizes the contribution of each in its proper proportion, according to its own design. We deny this at our own peril.
How cool of God to offer us this lesson in our bodies so we can live it out in His.