“Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning. The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her own life.“
It is difficult, to say the least, to observe your child in pain. As parents, it is wired into us to protect our children at all cost, to provide for them and to alleviate their suffering. But, sometimes, pain and discomfort are precisely what is needed for a young soul to grow in wisdom and resilience. If we never encounter difficulty and resistence and thus never learn to press through resistence towards a noble aim, then we will crumble beneath the life’s many demands and the demands of adulthood. A successful and thriving adult life is marked by the ability to forgo immediate pleasure, press through discomfort, and remain singleminded towards good goals in our lives. It takes hard won virtues of perseverance, temperance, courage, and prudence to succeed in business, friendships, marriage, and personal growth. So while it is indeed difficult to let your child experience some discomforts, it can be a very loving thing to do because it allows them to recognize how capable they are at pushing through difficulties when they need to! Allowing your child to experience appropriate levels of discomfort and simultaneously accompanying them, teaching them, and pointing out to them that this is imperative for their future happiness is a key part of building a content and capable soul in your son or daughter.
In the camp setting at Kahdalea and Chosatonga, we know our mission is hitting the mark when we see our boys and girls getting “hungry” for growth in our activities. Many of our activities are physically demanding with rigorous progressions which require hard work and sweat to break through to the next level. Still, our campers learn to desire the discomfort involved in climbing the activity ladder precisely because their hard work is associated with clear rewards: the unrivaled pleasure of multi-day trips in the pristine backcountry, the joy of being a part of a team and shouldering challenges with friends, the loyalty built between campers and counselors teaching them these skills, the sense of achievement enjoyed when they finally earn the right to participate in a certain trip, etc. When campers develop a taste for the satisfaction that can be achieved when we work hard towards a good aim, we know their dispostition of heart towards hardship will translate to great effect into the rest of their lives.
So, how can we encourage young hearts to aim high and to be willing to suffer hardship for the sake of something good?
- BE AN EXAMPLE OF EMBRACING DISCOMFORT OUT OF LOVE FOR SOMETHING HIGHER. If you do not live it, you can not give it. Let us become convinced of the truth that only in learning to embrace discomfort for the sake of a high and good aims can we fully live out human ability to be rational. We are the only creatures in the cosmos with the capacity to subject our physical well-being to higher rational goals. This is a gift and an opportunity to use our minds to build up beautiful things in our world and thus live out our God-given purposes. In order to teach these virtues of self-denial for the sake of other discernable goods, we must be the first ones convinced of their goodness. IF we are clear-eyed in our pursuit of good things, then it becomes easier for us to remain steady, cheerful, grateful, and driven even amidst suffering. In the words of Viktor Frankl, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.“
- ESTABLISH RHYTHMS OF REFLECTION IN OUR FAMILIES. We retain best in our memories what we have spent time reflecting upon, and reflection breeds self-awareness and empathetic consideration of how others feel as well. Consider striving as a family to adopt some sort of habit of regularly examining your days. This practice could be around the dinner table, in the car on the way home from school, or in the calm moments before bed. At camp, we frequently use the discussion methods of “High, Low, God moment” or “Rose, Bud, Thorn” to quickly and casually examine our days together. This helps us remember and reflect on more notable moments of our lives by honestly assessing and recognizing the good and the bad throughout our days (what gives us joy, what makes us melancholic, and what actions we may need to continue or to quit), and resolving to aim for wholeheartedly toward living a little bit more aware, more grounded in the future. This is especially important when it comes to identifying what in our lives is bearing good fruit and what is bearing bad fruit as well as helping us recognize when we need to ask for forgiveness or offer forgiveness ourselves. When hardship comes in life, having a routine of reflection (especially in a setting where loved ones are listening to us in a supportive and encouraging way) is extrememly key to processing our experiences in a healthy manner.
- TAKE THE TIME TO PRAY WITH YOUR CHILDREN. At the ending of this life, our openness to God and our willingess to endure hardship for his sake throughout our lives will mean very much to us. Jesus lived a life of service (“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” Matthew 20:28) and self-denial. He consistently accepted hardship and discomfort for the sake of others right up until his very death, death on a cross, which he accepted and allowed so he could be the Lamb of God, gifting his very body for our salvation. Praying individually and as a family is the BEST way to prepare our children for the hardships and sufferings they will inevitably encounter in their life experience because fixing our eyes on the example of Jesus allows us to understand the goodness, beauty, and truth on offer to those who are open to his love and example of sacrifice. An important thing to acknowledge is that Jesus did not deny the goods of the world because they are bad. God made the world and pronounced that creation, including our bodies, is good! Food is not bad, but Christ fasted from food at times. Sleep is not bad, but sometimes Christ stayed up all night in prayer. Our bodies are not bad, and yet Christ allowed his body to be tortured and killed for our sake. Jesus, through prayer, reflection, and a determination to give an example of a Godly life to the world, denied himself legitimate goods in order to reveal and achieve the greatest good for his followers: the gift of God! Christ endured hardship out of love for his children. This is the most compelling reason to teach our children the importance of pressing through resistance towards a goal: because God loved us first and showed us how to do this in a gritty life of love and joy despite encountering many hardships. In this light, even suffering and hardship can be transformed from something traumatic and despairing to something indescribably rich and lovely. “Behold, I make all things new”, Jesus says (Revelation 21:5).
By God’s grace, we can be the first convinced of the truth and importance of this message and, hopefully, become compelling witnesses of its efficacy. We are not teaching our children to embrace discomfort merely so they can live ultimately more comfortable lives, be faster or better athletes, have optimized future work environments, or achieve the longest human lives possible. These are all good things but you can achieve all of these things and find yourselves empty, lost, and without the joy of knowing the purpose and meaning of your life. The best reason we have to teach our children this valuable lesson lies in the wealth of God’s goodness and his very desire to be in relationship with each of us! Jesus invites us to deny ourselves and to “take up our cross daily and follow him” (Luke 9:23). In doing this, he promises that our burdens will be made “light” because of the great love on offer, and that by denying ourselves, even in little ways, in this life, we them experience his promise of REAL and enduring gifts with him in the next.
In short, through striving to live out a good example for our children, through leading them in rhythms of self reflection, and through teaching them to pray and ask God to teach us which crosses to carry and how to carry them, we can set our children on a trajectory for joy in this life by making them humble, holy individuals capable of standing on their own two feet in the world. Handling hardship becomes easier when one recognizes how much grace is embodied in our choice to deny some legitimate goods in striving towards an elevated understanding of human and spiritual goods available when we do! It’s no surprise that those who strive towards meaningful spiritual goals are happier than those who seek after the idea of “happiness” itself.
Our mission at Kahdalea and Chosatonga is to support our camp families by accompanying our campers in a meaningful way and by offering a fun, engaging framework consistent with these aims.