To Train Up a Child

This is not about the infamous book by Michael and Debbie Pearl. 

Have you heard of James Bonnett?  I hadn’t, until I read his story on runnersworld.com.    Diagnosed with ADD as a child, his doctor recommended medication.  His parents noticed James’ behavior didn’t improve, and in fact worsened.  The doctor also recommended physical activity.  A dreamy boy, James didn’t fit in with his older and younger brother.  He wasn’t the “easy child”.  He tried pee-wee basketball but couldn’t concentrate.  He played baseball and football and anything else they could think of.  None of them panned out.  But running…

James started running as a four-year-old. He ran his first 4-miler at 5 and his first half marathon at 8.  It only got better from there.  Amid strong criticism from outsiders, his parents kept letting him do what calmed him down. However, they never pushed him.  He set his own goals and kept on. His dad, former track runner and now ultrarunner himself, coached him.  They’d set out early and run 10-15 miles before breakfast.

“Pace yourself.  Slow, one foot in front of the other,” his dad intoned. He taught James how to take care of his body. He showed him how to fuel for best performance.  They talked and laughed together, bonding over their shared love of running and each other.

James had a natural ability.  He loved running; it made him happy.  How many of us can say that about anything we do?  He ran and ran and got faster and stronger.  But somewhere along the way, it stopped being fun.  The more sponsors he got, the more pressure he felt to win races.  He liked winning, sure.  But running only to win made him balk.  He didn’t want to wear that particular uniform.

He met a woman – the article makes her out as a modern Delilah – who lured him into taking time off.  With two kids of her own, she had a built-in family.  He decided he wanted to be a husband and father.  Not bad goals, at all.  He left running behind.  Stopped communicating with family and friends.   He took a job delivering beer to grocery stores. He completely immersed himself in his new role.  Until the morning she left him.

Shattered, he didn’t know what to do.  He dug through his possessions and found an old pair of running shoes and athletic shorts.  He put them on and ran a half mile.  Thus, he began his healing and comeback.  He remembered all his dad taught him. Start slow.  Add little by little.  Take time to recover and recoup. 

James’ story compelled me and made me think.  To be a child prodigy of running, then to simply lose interest over time as success nips your heels, intrigued me.  Running outside in the fresh air and local Phoenix hills helped him heal.  The lessons his dad took the the time to share with him helped him reconnect with his family and friends. I immediately thought of this scripture:  Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it. –  Proverbs 22:6.  I memorized it in the NKJV which says “train up a child” instead, hence the title. I’d always heard this verse in the context of taking your kids to church and teaching them godly principles.  Yet I think it applies to many, many things.  When our kids are young, they’re like sponges.  They absorb what we do and what we say.  They’re open, not tabula rasas exactly, but receptive.  They don’t have preconceived ideas or prejudices about things or situations.  They do what they’re asked (most of the time).  They don’t ask a lot of questions because their life experience is limited.  They trust and they learn as they go.

James remembered his Dad’s lessons and reaped a reward from them.  James, I suppose, proved an easy target since he didn’t seem to have a strong sense of identity for some reason.  Delilah the 2nd swooped in on him, unsuspecting, and steered his rudder towards her.  The ensuing catastrophe caused a breaking of self that make him reevaluate all he knew. Not unlike the infamous prodigal son of Jesus’ parable, he bottomed out in a big way. Which isn’t a bad thing, in the end.  He found himself and continues to figure out who he is.  Those old lessons served him well, pointed him back to a path to love and safety.  He’s running home now.



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