The morning sun glistened through the heavy frost still tinting the edges of my windows as I pulled into the high school parking lot. Can you think of a better activity for a cold January morning than an eight and under wrestling tournament? I certainly can.
It’s not that I dislike wrestling; I really enjoyed my son’s participation in the sport through his junior and senior high school years. But this was a very different experience—some of these boys hadn’t yet learned to tie their shoes. I can only imagine the experience from the perspective of a five-year old.
Picture yourself as a small boy. You joined the wrestling program so you could frolic and play with friends. The practices are a little boring (can’t escape those adult rules), but for the most part it’s a great social time as you hang out and make new buddies. The idea of going to a wrestling tournament sounds simply like a multiplication (even though you don’t know what multiplication means) of the fun.
But the day doesn’t start well as your parents drag you out of bed at an absurd hour. After a long car ride, rushing into the gym is even worse than the walk to the car on this 18-degree morning! The place is packed to overflowing as the crowd buzzes loudly with excitement. A few adults wearing striped referee shirts make you line up like animals and strip half-naked while they inspect for skin diseases.
With fearful anticipation you survey the scene. Four matches are going on at once, shrill whistles are blowing, and adults are constantly yelling. Some sound very mean. Half of the losers come off the mat crying. The other half seem oblivious to the fact that they lost.
Eventually you find yourself standing by the mat staring at another lost looking kid about your size. The guy in the stripe shirt lines you up and pierces the air with his whistle. Suddenly all h-e-double toothpicks breaks loose as everyone screams for you and the other kid to throw each other to the mat. You decide to grab him, but get penalized for an illegal move. An illegal move–what’s that?
I think you get the picture. But my problem isn’t with wrestling or even with wrestling tournaments. It’s with forcing immature children into a harsh adult world much too quickly. Some might say this is the world in which we live. I tend to wish that our children had more time to remain relatively innocent.
But the goal of this post isn’t to malign the shortcomings of youth wrestling—it’s to highlight a problem I see with what we might call youth Christianity.
While watching those lost little guys on the mat, I couldn’t help but think of the many professing Christians who have no clue that we are at war. To them, Christianity is about blessings and benefits and going to heaven some day. Thus, they are totally unprepared when the whistle blows and life turns crazy.
“11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13
Therefore take up the whole armor of God . . . that you may be able to withstand in the evil day . . . 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” Ephesians 6:11-17 (ESV).
Now wait just a minute! Nobody said anything about “cosmic powers” or “spiritual forces of evil” or even “flaming darts.” All I did was raise my hand so that I could be forgiven and go to heaven!
Once again I think you get the picture. You see, the problem with youth Christianity is that if we don’t understand the dynamics of life, we find ourselves lost in the struggle. While we constantly grapple for security, comfort, and pleasure; our enemies try to take us out and our Commander In Chief seeks to form us into champions of the faith. If we don’t recognize that all of life’s circumstances are intended to sweeten our spirits and strengthen our faith, we’ll find ourselves anxious, angry and depressed because of the confusing battles we face.
I wish things were different, but Christians don’t have the luxury to remain spiritually immature children. The hope and peace that come with Christianity can only be found as we Get with the Game! (written in an encouraging manner; not yelling; honest)