I’ve just returned from taking a few weeks off to visit Germany. There, I did something I’ve never really done before as an adult—served kids. There’s so much we can learn from kids by watching them play. Through serving at a children’s vacation bible school (VBS) in Berlin over the past few weeks, I’ve learned some important principles about community, growth and life in general. Here are just two of the important lessons I learned: First, undue pressure can cause kids to either fall apart or rebel. Secondly, kids excel when they are free to be themselves. In really thinking about it, these two guidelines have held true in my life, even as an adult.
There were three games I helped facilitate for the VBS in Berlin. The first was a version of Cornhole, where the children would take a small beanbag and throw it into three holes of varying difficulty. The kids did very well, and every child succeeded in hitting the most difficult hole. So I decided to challenge them a little by pushing the Cornhole board farther back. The children unanimously objected to the push. So I returned the board back to its original, safer distance. Even though the kids were doing fine with the top level hole before I pushed the board, they now regressed back to the easiest hole and decided to play it really safe for fear that I may push the limits again. So I tried telling the children that they were capable of more and helped them visualize doing it. Then they went for the more difficult challenge and succeeded. Without proper encouragement however, they fell backwards.
Like these kids, many of us are simply unaware of the ability and power we possess as God’s children. We just need to hear more of God’s voice and receive Godly encouragement rather than being surrounded by those that tear us down and discourage us. On the other side of that same coin are truth and discernment, which are also necessary for proper growth and timing.
The second game we played was a version of the old carnival game where you knock down stacked milk bottles. Instead of milk bottles, we used cans. Initially, the game was set up to appropriately challenge the children based on their size and ability. All the kids were able to knock over the cans and were content with the game. Then, just for fun I stacked the cans so far away that none of the children could even come close. This time, none of the kids objected to the challenge. In fact, each kid just kept trying harder on every turn they took. As cute as the children’s sternest facial expressions were in trying their hardest to reach the cans, they simply were not big enough to do so. Just as I was about to move the stacked cans back to a more reasonable distance, one of the kids ran toward the cans and knocked them down with his hands. Then another one started throwing the cans. That was the first time I experienced this kind of outburst from the children.
There have been many times in my life when I was not ready to take on a responsibility or challenge, but I decided to pursue it anyway, outside of God’s designed pathway. The bible has many stories where God’s people rebelled by taking shortcuts to goals and promises they were not ready for. This is why it is important to be surrounded by wise and Godly counsel to help us accurately assess our readiness and provide loving criticism. Often God asks us to wait, but we frequently demand instant gratification. So we take matters into our own hands. The truth is that we are free as children of God to accomplish so many great things, but we tend to focus on the few little things that God asks us not to do, like Eve in the Garden of Eden, fixated on the one tree with the forbidden fruit, ignoring an entire world of other treasures.
The third game I helped facilitate for the children was called walking the plank. A narrow plank was laid over a small kiddie pool of water. The challenge was to simply get across. There was only one level of difficulry to this game and no instructions were given but to walk across the plank without falling into the water. Spotters were placed on both sides of the children to catch them in case any of them fell. Impressively, every child walked across the plank with ease. Because of the potential danger of falling, the children were never pushed to do anything more than walk straight across, and no type of achievement points were awarded for walking the plank. It turned out that we didn’t need to put any additional pressure on the children. Left to their own devices, the children started to challenge themselves. After one child decided to pick up the pace, all the other kids followed suit. Then they upped the ante on their own by walking sideways, backwards and even spinning on the plank. Some of them danced, some made funny faces and a few closed their eyes. It was clear to me that the kids seemed to enjoy this game the most as they were allowed to be creative, go at their own pace and most importantly, be themselves. There was still the danger of falling into the pool of water, but the kids seemed to ignore that hazard having faith that the spotters would catch them.
How often do we get an assignment or project like that? A job where we are allowed to be ourselves and not worry about outside pressure? A dangerous pursuit where we aren’t afraid to fail because we have a spotter constantly watching our back? Does such a purpose exist for our life, or are we only afforded such flighty pursuits when we are children playing games? Perhaps we ought to spend more time with kids to help us learn to live and grow more freely.