"And Jesus said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while” -Mark 6:31
Children and adults alike need “gaps” in this life. Gaps are those inexplicable separations between responsibilities. They are the difference between the “have to’s” and the “want to’s.” We need to be able to handle the difficult days. But we need to realize too, that difficult circumstances are more manageable when we’ve cushioned them with gaps.
As I grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, most of my summers were spent playing in the hundreds of acres of woods north and west of our neighborhood. One of our favorite things to do at the trails was to catch animals and fish. I would leave the house, ride to Joe Paget’s house, and we’d make the 5-minute ride down Ridgemar Boulevard until it reached a dead end. I always loved getting to the end of the street and riding from the asphalt to the dirt trail. It meant we’d left the man-made and entered the God-made.
These were the days before today’s hyperactive sports programs. Today, it seems that driven parents are “forcing” their kids to spend more and more time focused on a particular athletic set. No gaps. Back then, as soon as baseball was over, the wide-open summer stood ready to absorb our exploration of the trails. Back then, summer began in May and lasted until after Labor Day.
The creek that meandered through the trails usually had water flowing through it. It fed into a larger tributary of the Trinity River that eventually made it’s way through Texas to the Gulf of Mexico. Many times we’d send boats down the creek, imagining their eventual landing in some Mexican Beach. In truth, the boat probably never made it out of the trails, but our imaginations simply wouldn't accept reality. Gaps are like that. They are rich in creativity but low in productivity.
There was a bend in the creek where it widened and became more of a pond than a creek. We had caught many baby catfish in the pond and we were just smart enough to figure out that those babies had to have a mommy. We also deduced that she was probably in the pond, so we decided that we’d find her. These are the kind of projects that never take place when days are spent heavily involved with sports and homework. Athletics and academics are important and needed, but gaps are needed too. Creativity is built around these meaningless gaps, but they have to be intentional.
That particular summer in 1970, we spent most days trying to find that catfish. Joe, my best friend, had rigged his bow and arrow with a line so that if we hit the catfish, it couldn’t swim away. One afternoon, in the middle of a Texas drought, the water was so low that we finally spotted the catfish. We were so excited. We cornered her under a tree and Joe fired the arrow. His shot was true and we had us a catfish.
We took it to Joe’s house where his mom filed it, fried it, made some hush puppies and we had a feast for lunch. We felt like true pioneers. We had hunted, captured and cooked it and were convinced we could conquer the world.
I am so thankful for those summer days. As parents and grandparents, we need to let our kids be kids and experience this world for themselves. Those times at the trails, we were on our own. Our parents never made a trip there with us. My parents were willing to let us go. Audit the gaps for your kids. Audit the gaps in your own life. Our kids model what they see in us. Go for a walk. Watch the Andy Griffith Show. Spend time with God. Work hard, but relax.
Allow yourself to go to the other side of the lake. Even if the crowd meets you there, the journey across will be well worth it, catfish and all.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©