Rite of passage parenting: Preparing for the cross
I just finished my fifth week of training for my climb up Mount Kilimanjaro. In a gym, I always feel like a fish out of water. I didn’t like gym classes as a child, and I don’t like them any better as an adult.
Last week after a hard day at work, I went to the gym, where I jumped up and down, made sucking noises like a Hoover vacuum sweeper, twisted, turned, groaned and perspired for an hour … and that was just so I could put on my gym clothes. Then the trainer put me on the treadmill for my cardio warm-ups. After about a minute there, I knew something didn’t feel right. I put my hand into the pocket of my gym shorts, but it didn’t slide in as usual. And that’s when I realized I had my shorts on backwards.
On top of that, my trainer decided to encourage me to swing my arms further out. Complying with his order, I made an exaggerated swing and accidentally hit his clipboard. It flew up in the air and came crashing down on the string attached to the treadmill’s emergency stop.
Have you ever had a moment in which you wished you had the gift of becoming invisible? The sound, the flying clip board and the perspiring student standing there with his gym shorts on backwards made this one of those times for sure.
I have five months of training left. When I began this journey, I knew there would be a price to pay. But knowing it in your head and going through with it in your out-of-shape, long-over-the-hill body are two vastly different things.
Of course, I knew when I started that I had to get into better physical condition. At my age, the muscles don’t recover as fast, and the fat flapping up and down makes a laughing sound as you run uphill on the treadmill. I go home each night feeling like a semi-truck hit me and I forgot to get the license plate number. But don’t worry. I’m bringing on two new partners: Ben Gay and Absorbine, Jr. I’m doing things I haven’t done since I was a high school student, but that’s the price of preparing to carry the cross up one of the highest mountains in the world.
Several people have asked whether or not I’m doing crunches as part of my Kilimanjaro training. The answer is yes. In fact, I’m doing them twice a day. I do Captain Crunch in the morning and Nestle’s Crunch after lunch.
Besides the physical challenges I face, a mental challenge accompanies this journey. As climbers near the top of the mountain, oxygen deprivation has the potential to play havoc with their minds. They have to push through the pain as they get up at midnight to make the final push to the summit. But the rewards that await them are worth it. As they stand on top of the world and see the sun coming up over the horizon, they witness a panoramic view only a few people ever get to see. And I’m asking God to let me be one of those who conquer the climb and see His glory.
My physical journey has an intense parallel with its spiritual counterpart. This journey is about much more than a mountain and a cross. Instead, it’s about Jesus, His cross and me. He set the minimum requirement for being a Christ-follower in Scripture: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).
For eight months, my physical life will focus on the challenge of taking a physical cross to the top of a mountain. I’m fasting from carbonated soft drinks. I’ve quit snacking between meals and have limited the amount of sweets I eat. I confess to you that the last part has been very difficult. The other day, I almost swiped a piece of candy out of a child’s hand.
The simple pattern for this journey and all its preparation time comes from Luke: desire, deny, embrace, follow. This makes a good pattern for us to model and instill in our children.
First, we must lead them to desire the things of God above the things of the world. We must also teach them the blessings of sacrifice and denial. As we do this, we encourage them to embrace the promises of God. Finally, in the midst of a confusing and disoriented world, we must teach them to keep following Him.
One day, you and your children will be able to stand on the mountaintop together and enjoy God’s blessings. And these rewards make even backwards gym shorts seem like a small price.