Flip the Boat

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Flip the Boat

One of the regrets I carry with me is that I didn’t flip the boat. You may think I’m crazy, but let me paint the picture.   I joined the sailing team for one season in college, my senior year. New England, fall, sailboats. It didn’t get much better. I loved sailing.  The only problem was that we stunk. My partner and I never won a race, never placed, and routinely brought up the rear even in practice. You could answer the question “Why?” with one word: Fear. We were afraid to flip the boat.   The team that regularly won the race in practice flipped the boat most often.  We sailed FJs. They only fit two people and, by design, sail on their edge, close to flipping.  The closer you get to the flip, the faster they go. The catch: you have to flip the boat every now and then to know that edge.  It takes risk. It takes getting wet. It takes failing every now and then. But once you know the limit, you can maximize the potential. We lost because we never took the risk and never reached our potential.   It’s so easy to have this same type of fear in parenting. Just the other night my son wanted to walk home from the pool at our hotel to our room by himself. It was a hundred and fifty yards and he knew the way and the room number.  We’ve never let him do something like this.   This was a decision.   “Make sure you call so I know to look for him,” I said. Later that night I thought, “That was ridiculous. I walked home from school at his age and stayed home alone for 2-3 hours by myself every day. Now with my son I had to decide if he could make it.” Ridiculous.   Fear has too great of a hold on parents and healthy risks are eliminated from children’s lives.  No running on the playground. Only roll the balls in dodgeball.  Don’t try if you think you’ll fail. No monkey bars.  I’ll drive.  You can’t go there, it’s too dangerous.  You won’t be able to call if there is a problem.  The list goes on and unfortunately so does the limited potential. To me it feels like we’re not only unwilling to flip the boat, we don’t want them to get in the boat in the first place.   Tim Elmore writes in his article Three Huge Mistakes We Make Leading Kids…And How to Correct Them, “over-protecting our young people has had an adverse effect on them….Childhood may be about safety and self-esteem, but as a student matures, risk and achievement are necessities in forming their identity and confidence.”   Why do so many people have a hard time making decisions, a hard time seeking a career, or finding a spouse? Could it be that for too long we’ve told them, “You can’t do that,” when they believed they could? Or we’ve said, “You might get hurt,” when they believed they could make it. A history of safety leads to a lifetime of reservations.   I’m not advocating recklessness, stupidity, or crossing the clear moral boundaries that God graciously gives us. But if we only walk by sight, where does faith in the gigantic, all-powerful, supreme God come in? Where do they begin to develop trust in God? If they don’t begin to develop the “muscle” of courage, how will God use them when courage is needed?   Darcy Kimmel says it wonderfully in her article Designed Dilemmas: “Allowing our kids to try, fail, get back up and try again is one of the most compassionate acts of a parent. We won’t always be there when they have to make their way through life, so it’s our job to get them ready to act on their own, fortified with the character we’ve modeled for them and the preparation we’ve woven into their lives.”   When it comes to our children, let’s take some risks. Let’s take risks with them and let them take risks on their own. Let’s prepare them for the future. Let’s have God grow their courage and expand their potential. I bet we’ll be amazed with what God does in them.  It will be exciting to see what they can do if every once in a while we’re willing to flip the boat.    

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