Many years ago, a little boy who shall remain nameless lest he force me to stop blogging about him was running in a sea of children in our church recreation center. Shoulders high, fists balled, chin tucked, he was playing tag for all he was worth, holding his own, but not outrunning anyone.
The problem was easy to spot. Having once run in a track meet myself, I felt confident that I could impart a little wisdom, help the lad along, so I pulled him aside.
“Son,” I said softly, “Do you want to be fast?”
Hazel eyes wide, he looked up at me out from under a fringe of copper bangs, cheeks flush, temples damp. Chest heaving, he put his hands on his hips like an athlete. I smiled. This was a boy who could be taught.
“You’re too tight,” I pointed out. “Hold your hands like this.” I made the a-okay symbol, touching the tips of my index fingers and thumbs together and letting the other fingers fan loose.
He did the same.
“Loosely,” I coached.
“Now relax your shoulders. Just let your arms swing loose and easy. They’ll help carry you along.” At this crucial moment of instruction, our lesson was interrupted by a friend of mine who wanted my opinion on something. Assuming my pupil would stay put and wait patiently for me to finish my conversation, I turned my back to him.
A few seconds later, mid-sentence, my friend’s gaze drifted past me and focused beyond my shoulder. Covering her mouth with manicured fingers, she giggled and raised her eyebrows.
I knew before I looked.
Having taken my partial instruction to heart and applied it with the kind of gusto unique to young men trying to impress, my boy had cast himself headlong into the throng of youngsters, legs pumping, a-okay signs locked, and arms swinging side to side at shoulder level so fast they blurred like helicopter blades.
His grimace was intimidating. Startled and confused, his playmates scattered like debris on a tarmac.
Now, I could’ve blamed Hunter for this fiasco—oh, come on, you already knew who it was! After all, he was the one who chose to fly solo without the proper training, and he was the one who chose to use what little he knew for evil instead of good, right?
Well, yes, but his being the inexperienced child and my being the (slightly) more knowledgeable adult, the ultimate fault was my own. I should have been more specific in my instruction, anticipating his questions and assumptions and heading them off. I should have shown him what I meant by “swing loose.” I should have seen the lesson through without becoming distracted, waiting for him to work through and incorporate the new information and offering patient, loving correction until he could apply it with skill.
I remember this scene every time I hear a younger brother or sister in Christ spout folly born of incomplete knowledge of Scripture or see them act in ways unbecoming of a follower of Christ. To my chagrin, I’m sure those who are farther along in their walk with Jesus than I am feel the same way about me sometimes.
In those moments, the temptation is always to blame them for their mistakes–and they do bear some responsibility for their words and actions–but those of us who stand by and listen/watch without offering any loving correction or encouragement are guilty ones because we know better.
Yes, new believers should ask questions, and, yes, they should seek the Lord in prayer on their own to keep their motives in check, but those of us who are more spiritually mature must be more focused and diligent in our discipleship of those who come behind us, instructing them carefully and thoroughly, setting an example worth following, and seeing them through the process of practical application of Truth until we are sure they’ve got the hang of it.
Back to the gym, you’ll be glad to know that I SWIFTLY pulled my boy aside to a quiet corner and, choosing my words more carefully, demonstrated proper running form for him with love and patience. In fact, should someone challenge him to a game of tag, I feel confident that he would be able to outrun some people without hurting or bewildering anyone.
May we Christians care enough to do the same for our younger brothers and sisters in Christ—PRIVATELY (Matthew 18:15-16)…don’t even get me started on that one!—lest they embarrass themselves and/or inhibit Kingdom work.