Saturday, October 30, 2010

Learning to Cope, Learning to Win

        Miniature golf, with child-sized paths and gingerbread architecture, looked like fun. Two year-old Nathan happily ran ahead of his dad to the counter and soon eagerly clutched his own small club. "Oh, boy! Oh, boy!"
        After a few pointers Nathan hit the ball down the carpeted lane. When the ball disappeared into one hole and came out in an unexpected place Nathan joyously jabbered on and on.
        The fun lasted until the third hole. Here a tiny door to a house opened and closed continually, and the idea was to hit the golf ball at just the right time to go in. After the first few misses Nathan was frowning. "Too 'ard! Too 'ard!"
        Like a flash he ran off to climb some artificial rocks, jump down the other side, toss pebbles into a pond, and be unwillingly scooped up in his dad's strong arms.
        Probably you've felt like it, too. For some reason you have been plopped down in the middle of the complicated game of life. You give it your best shot, a couple of times. Nothing but frustration. The whole world is just too much.
        While you and I have given up having childish temper tantrums in public it's easy to sulk at home. Like little Nathan we complain, "Too 'ard. Too 'ard." We abandon the course and run off, looking for fun by our own rules.
        Not long ago, as lightning crashed uncomfortably near I couldn't seem to drop off to sleep. "I wish You were here, Jesus. You calmed the storm for the disciples," I murmured sleepily. Then I realized the truth. He was here. I pictured Him beckoning to me with outstretched arms. I pictured myself as a toddler, running to sit in His lap.
        And then came the best part! I've thought of the Lord sitting on His throne in Glory before, but this time the throne rocked! It was just like the soothing motion back and forth on mother's lap as she sat in the old wooden rocker.
        No matter how old we are or how sophisticated we deem ourselves to be there's still that vulnerable Inner Child who needs the attention that only a loving Heavenly Father can minister. To me, it fulfills that Bible verse that says, "Casting all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you." Sometimes my biggest care is my concern for myself. So when I sit on His lap I've "taken the load off my feet," so to speak.
        As Nathan and his dad came in from their abbreviated excursion to the miniature golf park Carlene had just gotten home from work. "Well, Peter, I take it that golfing didn't go so well," she began. "You couldn't have finished up so quickly."
        "Tell mommy about Goofy Golf, "coached dad.
        "Don't like it. Too 'ard. Too 'ard."
        That was it until bedtime. As Carlene tucked him in and Peter watched from the doorway Nathan suddenly began crying and jabbering.
        "Hey, son. What's the matter?"
        "Yucky man. Yucky man," he seemed to be saying.
        Finally getting the youngster calmed down Peter surmised the problem and explained. "Oh yeah. Nathan did see a yucky man! There was a very evil-looking face of a man lit up on one of the screens in the video arcade we had to walk through today to pay admission."
        Turning to tearful Nathan Peter said, "Son. It's OK. That yucky man was just a picture. It's like a picture in a book. There's nothing on the other side. It just looks like a bad person. It can't hurt you at all."
        Held in the strong arms of his dad Nathan let himself be prayed over, and Peter asked our Heavenly Father to take away the bad memory. Then together they softly sang a Sunday School song, "Father, We Thank You for the Night."
        "Now, Nathan, the rest of the job is up to you."
        "Yes, whenever your mind starts to think about Yucky Man, you just tell it to go away. And to help it go away ask God to give you a happy new thought. And you could sing a song to God."
        I can't help but smile when I think of precious little Nathan, taking "Yucky Man" so seriously. In his innocent mind the terrible picture was a real threat. But are we different?
        The Bible says we have an enemy of our soul. He's "roaring about like a lion." But he appears much bigger and stronger than he really is because of the way the lights play on his figure, flashing against the black darkness that surrounds him.
        Rather than let ourselves be traumatized or else lured into gazing into the devil's strange countenance we need to tell our Father all about it. We need His reassuring arms about us. He will tell us what to do.
        Many people are perplexed about adversity and troubles. "Why?" they want to know. "Why am I having this awful problem?" Maybe verbally or maybe unconsciously they blame God for the misfortune.
        Think of a toddler, just learning to walk. Ooops! Down she goes. But mom or dad is quick to lift her back to her feet, with a hug and encouraging words, "Try again. You can do it. Big girl."
        God sees us trying to walk the Christian walk. Again and again we fall, but He doesn't berate us. He wants us to succeed; He's cheering us on.
        One day we go exploring down the sidewalk and a bully comes charging out. Scared to death we run home, crying, or shaking with fear until we make it safely to daddy's arms.
        Does daddy care? Yes. And he's big enough to deal with the bully. But soon he allows us to go off again by ourselves so we can learn about the world.
        Then the day comes when we run home from the bully and daddy says, "It's time you told him to leave you alone. You need to learn how to defend yourself."
        If we always intervened in our children's lives to spare them from every bully, every problem, we'd cripple them. Eventually the time must come when they learn to stand up on their own.
        This is what God does for us. We are His cute little children, and He dearly loves us. But after a while He expects us to grow up, to mature. Not that we will ever be independent of Him or able to handle things in our own strength or cleverness. But to be the fighter who wears that spiritual armor of Ephesians 6, who takes a stand against evil, who goes into battle for men's souls, we must learn how to overcome the enemy.
        Part of our maturing in Christ is learning how to use the Word of God and our testimony of faith to win the battle. Revelation 12:11 tells us, "They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony."
        The "game of life" is not just about muddling through, holding on, squeaking by. It's a glorious adventure that challenges our highest devotion, our creative minds, our intelligent effort.
        Sometimes the greatest need of our souls is to run to our Father for His love and comfort. He wants us to know the reality of that intimacy. It says in Zephaniah 3:17, "The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you. He will quiet you with His love. He will rejoice over you with singing."
        Other times we are engaged in battle. We call out to Him, our Commander in Chief. We get our directions from Him. And then we obey, going forward in His timing, under His leadership, and in His power. In the midst of the conflict we fearlessly proclaim His praise.
        As Nathan's proud grandma I was pleased to see how my son and daughter-in-law handled the problem that day. I don't know if Nathan has conquered golf, but the episode reminds me that we can learn to cope. It also shows me that we can learn to win. Our Father will see to it that we have ample opportunities to develop our spiritual muscle.
        Parents, we are entrusted with the teaching of these valuable lessons. Each of us needs to know what to do when the game is "too 'ard" and what to say when we see "Yucky Man."
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by Elaine Hardt ©1991