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Lessons Learned From the Playground

A few years ago I had the opportunity to volunteer at an elementary school once a week during my lunch break.  Each Tuesday when we arrived, a flood of first graders would race up and whisk us off to play soccer, football, foursquare, jump rope, or straight to the jungle gym.

As the weeks progressed, I developed a relationship with one first grader in particular named Guadalupe.  Each week she would see me walk out to the playground and we would have the same conversation:

“Do you remember me?!”  

“Hi Guadalupe!”  

At this point she would squeal, grab my hand, and lead me over to the monkey bars.  Once at the monkey bars, she’d ask me to hold her waist as she crossed from one side to the other.  

After a few weeks of this same routine, I decided it was time for her to start going across the monkey bars without my help.  I knew it would be a process of helping her gain the necessary strength and confidence to do it, but she was ready.  I was barely helping her at this point.  

The next week as she was going across the monkey bars, I slowly let go.  I was still right there, in case she started to fall, but I knew she could do it.  However, instead of continuing across the equipment, she froze, and yelled at me to hold on with BOTH HANDS.  

This cycle continued for the next several weeks.  I’d try to let go, she’d yell at me to hold on.  I wanted her so badly to be able to do this on her own.  I knew she would be so proud of herself once she accomplished it, and that this accomplishment would open the doors to a whole new level of playground to explore and adventures to conquer.  But I knew that as long as she relied on me completely week after week, she’d never develop the muscle strength and confidence in herself necessary to succeed.    

One day as we were standing on the playground, I realized how much Guadalupe and I actually had in common. How often do my prayers sound a little like this:  

“Heavenly Father, this is Rachel, do you remember me?  Are you aware of what I’m going through right now?”  

And how often does Heavenly Father patiently wait while I try to cross the monkey bars of life, waiting for me to take the next leap of faith? He knows the big picture.  He knows what experiences I need to help me strengthen my spiritual muscles and increase my faith to help me prepare for the future.  

I’m sure there were moments when Guadalupe thought I was abandoning her on the monkey bars. That was never the case, I was always right there, ready to catch her if needed.  But also knowing she was capable of so much more.  

Likewise, I think sometimes we feel a little abandoned when we are allowed to struggle and grow and exercise our agency.  But the truth is, we are never actually alone.  Our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ never leave our side.  But they do allow us opportunities to grow, to become more like Them.  And as hard as that is, I’m so grateful They trust me enough to let me grow, and stumble, and pick myself back up.  

Because this current set of monkey bars is just the beginning.  I’ve got a whole playground to explore.    

Thanks for the reminder, Guadalupe.   

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