True joy in life is a precious commodity. While we can’t always define exactly how to find it*, it’s easy to see when it’s there.
Abby, our baby, had her fourth birthday on Monday. We had a great time Monday evening at every 4-year old’s favorite restaurant, Chuck E. Cheese. Grandma came and we had pizza and cake. The kids spent tokens furiously and considered spending their tickets like an investor looking through Wall Street’s offerings.
“Chez Cheese” wasn’t the highlight of Abby turning four, though. For months she has been looking forward to being four so she can join the rest of the family and study kenpo. Our whole family trains at Attitude First Training Center; James and I have earned our blue belts,** Elizabeth is an orange belt, Sarah has a yellow belt, and Laura takes an exercise fitness class. However, our instructor’s rule is that kids must be four years old to train.
Lawrence promised Abby that for her birthday she would get a private lesson from him. She talked and talked about being four so Mr. Robinson could give her a karate lesson! Then on Sunday the anticipation built even more, when Lawrence brought Abby a birthday gift and gave it to her at church: her new uniform and white belt!
On Tuesday afternoon she came for her time with Lawrence, and the big day was here! Like you might expect from a four year old, she was bouncing off the walls a little waiting for her lesson. Laura and I were both thinking that she might get there and “clam up,” but it never happened. She did excellently. Not only that, she taught me a lesson or two about my relationship with God.
It was a lot of fun to watch Abby interact with Lawrence. She has watched her older siblings train her whole life, so this was her turn to get in the game! She made it through her whole private lesson and then 40 more minutes of a group class for kids. That is not bad for a 4 year old kiddo!
I learned a lot of lessons watching Abby and Lawrence on Tuesday.*** Seeing Abby’s joy at being “big” and getting to come to kenpo class really made me think about how I treat life in many areas.
First of all, I think I learned not to underestimate people. I was a little concerned that Abby would feel a lot of pressure with her brother and sisters watching her because they have taken kenpo for awhile. I was concerned that she would be distracted by the other students training. However, I held my tongue because I didn’t want to ruin her time with a bunch of rules, and I didn’t want to issue any self-fulfilling prophecies. So what happened? None of my fears materialized; Abby had a great time and concentrated incredibly well. Too many times I think I try to make sure that people are “prepared for the worst” when I should let them experience life with joy and stay close to help if problems do arise.
Secondly, Lawrence has an amazing ability to bring himself to the level of his student. Abby remembered 3 or 4 important concepts from that very first lesson because he brought them to her in a way that she could get. For instance, in kenpo we present our salute with an open left hand to represent our knowledge and a closed right fist to represent our strength. To Abby, her salute means “be smart” and “be strong.” He got on his knees, looked her in the eyes, and showed her what to do. How often do I overcomplicate the issues of life, when in reality I need to simplify and make them understandable for people? How much does God take large and complicated things and make them simple for me? (like His sovereignty for instance. I wonder how He can maintain control over the universe while allowing creatures to make free choices. His answer? “I’m in charge. I am all powerful. I can do it, so don’t sweat it.”)
Lawrence applauded Abby’s success and made her lesson a lot of fun! If he had made it overly strict or complicated she would not have had fun, and would not want to come back. Instead he laughed with her, reinforced her success, applauded her, and taught her something. She wants to train because now kenpo is associated with being “big” and with fun. I think that God does the same with us, helping us “grow up” in our walk while still making life fun. The people I see who become apathetic about their walk with Christ lose the joy first. Christianity becomes a set of rules instead of a grand adventure with God; the joy leaves, it becomes a drag, and they give up. I need to look for fun in my walk with God and see my discipleship with new eyes again.
The fun of our training center is also really reflective of a good Christian walk, too. It is not chaos. We have customs and traditions and rules. we wear uniforms, have rank, and do things a certain way. However, it is not so structured as to be restrictive! Christianity has an external standard of thought and behavior too, but that standard is not so rigid as to be confining. It is more about growing in relationship with God than with following a set of rules, though we have standards and expectations. Abby had fun learning from Lawrence and growing in her ability to participate in kenpo. I want to have fun learning from God and growing in my ability to participate in the kingdom of God.
Thanks, Abby Ann, for showing me God in your wonderful attitude for life. Thanks for reminding me about having fun and being joyful. Thanks for making me want to rediscover the joy of being “big.” Thanks for reminding me that as much as you want to grow up, in many ways I need to become like you more than you need to become like me.
And He called a child to Himself and set him before them and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.“And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me;”
*For zealous theologians whose answer to the question of how to find joy is to live for Christ, I offer congratulations on a correct answer and a caution. Remember that sometimes loving God and honoring Him is incredibly painful and lonely. I imagine the OT prophets never experienced “their best life now.” Job had a pretty rough road. Paul, while joyful, had heartache galore. This is another post.
**In American Kenpo the rank structure is white-yellow-orange-purple-blue-green-brown-black. I have been studying for three and a half years and I am a fairly fast learner. Belts are not given away at AFTC by any stretch of the imagination.
***I am a “mentor” at AFTC, so I was training another student while Abby had her lesson. I got to sneak some looks though! I also help with the kids group classes, so I helped her a lot then.