When I was a junior in high school I, along with a handful of friends, hiked the trail of the 14,492 ft. Mt. Whitney. Standing as the highest mountain in the continental United States, Mt. Whitney is a challenging and breathtaking (both because of its beauty and altitude) although not impossible mountain to climb. Most people that do reach the summit however do so over a period of two days. We were teenagers and decided that we would do the whole thing, from bottom to top and back down again, in one day. So, we started our hike at midnight and did not return until 10 p.m. that same day. Of the group that started for the top only two of us, the oldest teenagers in the group, would make the entire round trip (on a side note, we both ended up in the Marine Corps. What exactly that means I am not sure, but it is an interesting fact). Shortly after we started moving up the mountain in the middle of the night our group spread out so that the two of us who went to the top did so alone. But we did the entire thing without incident over a period of twenty-two hours! While I am sure this is a fascinating story, and one that demonstrates what an amazing athlete I was in high school, I do not share it here for either of those reasons. We were able to successfully navigate that trail without falling off a mountain that takes lives every year because we had been prepared by someone else who had already been there. The leader of that trip was Dave Hendricks, a teacher at our school who had made that same hike before and wanted to share it with some of his students. Mr. Hendricks is a man who likes to prepare and made sure that by the time we stepped off we felt like WE had made the trip before. We looked at maps, talked about climate, learned how to eat and hydrate while moving and even planned our stops. It has been more than twenty years since that hike, but I still remember the plan, laid out in advance by someone with experience, that made it possible for us to finish well.
Over the years I have found myself, at least metaphorically, on that trail again and again. Not knowing exactly what I was doing but excited to be on the journey. There is often darkness and exhaustion but also a consistent belief that if I just keep moving, I will somehow make it to the top. What I have learned though is this: When success does come it is not my boldness or skill that makes it happen.
Success in life comes when we allow the example of others who have been there to prepare us for the journey ahead.
There are so many applications to life and leadership that can be made from this simple principle but here I would like to make only one. Perhaps the most difficult and confusing path that I have walked is the path of fatherhood. While I believe that God is ultimately responsible for the futures of my children, I also believe that he has given me the responsibility to raise them in a way that equips them to be what He has created them to be.
Ephesians 6:4 says: And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
The question that I go back to so often though is how? In a culture that exalts evil and mocks all that the Bible calls good, how do I raise my kids in a way that will allow them to get to the top of the mountains that they will climb in their lives?
How do I prepare them for a trip that they have never taken:
1. Be a person worth following. It is easy to give advice and say the right things but much harder to live a life that is worthy of being followed. Young people need less advice and more example. Do you want a reason to live right? Live right for those who will look to your example when they don’t know what else to do.
2. Point them to someone other than you. Even at our best we are simply people trying to do our best. Our example should be one that demonstrates our own understanding of our dependence on God. He is the one that will never change and the one who promises to “Never leave us or forsake us.” The Apostle Paul told his followers to follow him only as he followed Christ. Be a person worth following fully aware of your need to follow Christ.
a. Make a priority of Bible reading
b. Make a priority of Prayer
c. Make a priority of gathering with other believers at Church
d. Make a priority of the right kinds of relationships
3. Be real. Don’t pretend to be better or worse than you are. Be authentic.
4. When you are present, be present. We need to work to provide for our families and sometimes that requires time away. Our families understand being away so that we can care for them. What they don’t understand is being away when we don’t have to. When you are present, be present.
5. Say you are sorry. We all make mistakes. Everyone knows it. Admitting it is a powerful way to continue to be a person, though not perfect, who is worth following.
6. Share your failure and explain how you got back up when things did not work out. Your children will fall someday. They need to know that they can get back up.
There are few things in this world as difficult as being a Father. There are few things in this world as wonderful as being trusted enough by God to raise children in a very troubled world. The path that our kids will walk is going to be both challenging and breathtaking but certainly not impossible. They may not know it for a long time, but the success that they experience on this path will be in large part because of a dad, someone who has been this way before, preparing them for what they will face. How incredible to know that our lives can be used to show our children the way forward in their own. I pray that I will be a dad that prepares the way!