Lessons from a Snow Leopard

I stood there, frozen. His two, predator eyes were locked on me and my family. His long, thick tail twitched back and forth, and his body sank into a crouch. A chill ran down my spine as I saw his powerful front paws and his razor-sharp claws. The snow leopard watched me, his gaze unblinking. Death was embodied in that stare. 

(Photo by Peet van Schalkwyk at Creative Commons)

(Photo by Peet van Schalkwyk at Creative Commons)

Turning to Liz, I said, “Well, shall we keep going?” Caleb said, “See you tomorrow, snow leopards.” Bailey started to pull on the leash, and with that we continued our daily walk past the local zoo.

Here’s a simple question for us: Are we preparing our students for life in the real world, or life in the zoo?

Here’s what I mean. Maybe snow leopards in the zoo have all the perks. They never have to hunt for their food. They’re never in danger of predator or hunter. A veterinarian gives them regular checkups. They’re fat, clean, and well nourished. They haven’t a care in the world.

They’re also not really living.

They never experience the thrill of a hunt. They never get to test their prowess against lightning-quick prey. They never feel the snow between their toes and the bitter cold wind against their heavy, thick coat. They don’t know what it’s like to live with all of their senses on red-alert. They never run full speed or hunt until they’re exhausted. They don’t know the joy of eating their fill after days of hunger and failed attacks. They’ve never been put to the test and passed—or failed.

And so it is with many Christian young people. It’s easy for us to become so worried about protecting and guarding our young people that we forget that they are made to live. Like the leopards in the zoo, we try to protect them from every danger and harm. We give them pre-digested spiritual food. We care for their every need. We try to entertain, or delight, or attract in any way possible.

If we’re not careful, we become really good zookeepers.

But what if that’s all wrong? What if these students were born to become change agents in the world? What if we became more concerned about how they might change the world than how the world might change them? What if we intentionally found them opportunities to test themselves? What if we prepared them to engage and challenge and thrive and survive in ‘the wild?’ What if the very reason they were born is to be gospel carriers in a dark and needy world? What if we did everything in our power to prepare them to live in the real world, not protect them from it?

What if?

Of course, I’m not saying that we act irresponsibly. I’m not saying that we throw them out the door and tell them to “sink or swim.” I’m merely saying that leopards are meant to run and stalk and spring and sprint and hunt. Not sit in zoos. And people are meant to love and witness and risk and dream and fall and learn and live. And it’s our jobs—as youth leaders and parents—to prepare them … and to set them free.

  • Szabados Ádám

    Challenging, but exciting thoughts, Rob.

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