How to teach our children to soar

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” —James 1:2–4

How birds learn to fly

Baby birds don’t learn to fly entirely by instinct. It takes a lot of training and encouragement from their parents. Without parental help, a bird would never be able to leave the nest. 

According to Professor Lorena Barba, at Boston University’s Engineering School, “No bird is born with the ability to fly because it takes practice. Rather, birds are trained by their parents through the power of reinforcement.” 

Bird parents accomplish reinforcement by feeding their babies and teaching them how to flap their wings.

We can all picture baby birds with their mouths wide open, waiting for their mamas to return with food. They are vulnerable, hungry, and completely dependent. But they are confident that mama will return with nourishment. 

They know that someone is out there watching over them, ensuring their well-being. Over time, the mama moves farther and farther away with their food, encouraging their babies to move closer and closer to the edge of their nest. 

Bird parents teach their young how to fly by encouraging them to flap their wings and practice with short distances. For example, they might nudge them to fly from their nest to a nearby branch. Barba explains: “Only with practice do they learn the ropes and develop the muscles necessary to flap their wings to their fullest potential.” 

Birds that are hesitant to attempt flight are often kicked out of the nest by their mama—literally. It isn’t uncommon for a baby bird to fall to the ground on their first few tries, but that is what teaches them to eventually soar.

What humans and birds have in common

The goal of human parents is similar to that of birds, to teach their children to successfully fly away from the nest. Human mamas are usually more reluctant to push their babies out of the nest, so we have an annual ritual called high school graduation. It’s a formal confirmation that many thousands of kids are ready to fly.

As Christian parents, we spend years preparing our children for flight. Our way of feeding them is through God’s Word. Like baby birds, they are vulnerable, hungry, and completely dependent. 

To aid them in maturation, we share stories, verses, and cautionary tales from the Bible. We teach them that there is an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God looking out for their best interests, even when we cannot (Psalms 86:15). We nourish and strengthen them through the offering of spiritual wisdom and direction.

Our children learn to flap their wings through their trials and our subsequent support and prayers. If we didn’t let our children fall, they would never learn to soar. They would never learn that their heavenly Father is always there to pick them up. 

The Apostle Paul wrote: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12–13). He wrote those words after being imprisoned multiple times, shipwrecked in a violent storm, and even bitten by a poisonous snake.

James said it this way: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2–4).

I believe that if James was giving a parenting lecture on these verses, he would say that we need to not only allow our children to face adversity and failure, but to welcome it. Then, in the midst of our children’s trials, we need to point them to the resources found in faith, to persevere and mature.

An opportunity for faith, perseverance, and maturity

The words of James are especially poignant for this year’s high school graduates. Due to COVID-19, they are experiencing an unexpected end to their senior year. 

For these kids, a time that is usually full of celebration and bliss, is now a time marked by trials and tribulations. They are missing proms, celebrations with family and friends, and graduation ceremonies. Some have lost loved ones and others are living in communities that have been hit hard by the repercussions of the virus.

But remember, our heavenly Father is still watching over us. He gives us the strength to continue to fly in the middle of the storm. Perhaps COVID-19 has given these kids (and all of us) an opportunity to strengthen their faith and experience the perseverance that James points to as essential for maturity and completeness.

It is time to fly

While parents prepare to honor their graduates and eventually set them free, they can reflect on the reinforcement that they, like bird parents, have given their young. 

They have fed them well and exercised their wings to be strong and swift. 

Now it’s time to let our kids fly, resting in the knowledge that when their wings get tired, torn, or frayed, their heavenly Father will be right there to catch them.