Today is a big day in our house. My youngest gets to lace up her skates, strap on her helmet and pick up her stick to get on the ice with all the other 7- and 8-year-olds playing house league ice hockey tonight. We have been working for this moment for over a year. Personally, I never thought she'd stick it out through the year of learn-to-skate classes, but she did, and we're so proud of her.
We encountered many tears, frustrations and "I'm not sure I want to do this" comments throughout the year. She is not my kid with a lot of innate stick-to-itness. She has to be coaxed and encouraged along the way. She wanted to step on the ice and be the next Sidney Crosby. I had to remind her that even Sidney Crosby probably fell down the first time he set foot on the ice.
Of all the things my youngest has learned in this year of preparing to play hockey, the most important thing she has learned is perseverance. The poor girl thought she was never going to learn to stop. Learning to stop came at the high cost of extra time spent on the ice, private lessons and eight stitches in her chin. The one thing we kept telling her was that if you want something, you have to work for it. Sometimes it takes perseverance.
I think perseverance is a character quality that gets short shrift in our culture. We live in a me-first, I want it now culture. The idea of delayed gratification is foreign to many. The prevailing thought is "If I want it, I should have it." That's not what we want our kids to learn. Sometimes life is hard, and if our kids haven't learned how to persevere through the tough times, then they'll never reap the rewards of doing so.
We are called to persevere. Galatians 6:9 says "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." Sometimes, our reward for continuing to do the things that God asks for us is not immediate. Sometimes we suffer for doing what we should. (The Christians of the early church lived in constant fear of death.) But, in the end, we will reap the reward that God has for us.
If you have a child who wants to give up whenever things don't go exactly as they wish, work with her to teach the quality of perseverance.
- Look for opportunities to talk with your children about perseverance. Take your kids to a marathon or watch one on TV. Talk about how hard it must be for the runners to keep running for 26 miles. Ask your kids how far they think they could run without wanting to stop. Share Hebrews 12:1 with your kids "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." Point out that God is calling us to persevere in tough circumstances, just like those marathon runners persevere until the end of the race.
- Set up an obstacle course in your backyard. Make it hard, and if you have more than one child, include obstacles that require them to work together to cross. Make your obstacle course require some thought for how to get through it. You can even include some mental challenges as well as physical ones. Have a really great prize for finishing the course -- ice cream, extra video game time, whatever motivates your kids. Your kids might get frustrated. Just encourage them to keep trying. When they finally finish, give them their reward and talk about how they worked through their frustration. Talk about what made them want to persevere. Apply perseverance to issues that they struggle with in their daily lives. Is math hard for them? Are they having trouble with a friend? Talk about how persevering through the situation will give them a greater reward in the end.
- Model perseverance. If your children excel at something that is tough for you, let them teach you how to do it. Maybe it's a soccer move or a dance move or cup stacking. Stick with it until you learn how to do the task. Ask your kids how they would have felt if you had quit in the middle. Ask them how they think it makes God feel if we quit doing something we should just because it's difficult.
As you go about teaching your kids to persevere, remember to point out the rewards of perseverance. Whether it's finally playing on a team, learning something new or simply pleasing God, perseverance always reaps rewards.