I have to admit that I haven’t always been crazy about  cheerleaders. It’s probably because the only attention I’ve ever gotten in a gym is when I was passing through on my way to the library and a random volleyball hit me in the head.

But I’ve known and loved several cheerleaders in my life– some with pom poms and lots without. And last week, when I took 45 8-11 year olds to camp, I must say that the height and breadth and determination and volume of their cheerleading nearly brought me to tears. (The good kind of cheers and tears! Not the kind where people shake their fingers and yell U-G-L-Y! They ain’t got no alibi! They’re ugly! Hey, hey they’re ugly! )

Nope, their kind of cheering made this children’s minister’s heart grow three sizes those days!

I’ll give you an example.

Take this dear child of mine standing on a telephone pole. This act of bravery and craziness at Bonclarken Conference Center in Flat Rock, North Carolina, is called The Leap of Faith. It used to be called The Pamper Pole, probably because jumping off of it might make you wish you’d worn Pampers, but someone thought it should have a name that you don’t have to explain to children when they ask you 45 times, so they came up with a new one. (So now the kids use both names and get to have a good laugh about wearing diapers.) The Leap of Faith is a perfect name because once you climb to the top of the pole (all safely harnessed in, don’t you worry!) you must manage to stand up on a tiny platform, gather up your courage and leap into the sky for the trapeze bar hanging just out of reach.

Every year we have lines of kids who think they want to climb this pole and jump off.

(Not me. I have no need or want or slightest inclination to do this EVER EVER EVER my whole life long.)

But then the children take their turns, and once they’re halfway up and past the point of being allowed to climb back down, they sometimes have second thoughts.

That’s when the cheering comes in.

You should have seen these children cheering for each other! Cheering no matter what, no matter if it was an easy jump or if there were a few tears or a handful- or if their little bodies were frozen stiff with fear. They’d call each other’s names and give advice, if they thought it might help. They’d say “YOU’VE GOT THIS!” and “I’M GONNA BUY YOU AN ICE CREAM AT THE NIBBLE NOOK WHEN YOU COME DOWN CAUSE YOU’RE DOING SO GREAT!” They’d tell each other TAKE A DEEP BREATH. That they didn’t have to rush. “WE HAVE TIME!” they’d say, even if it was eight minutes until worship started and they were next in line after waiting a half hour.

And if someone on the ground decided that climbing a twenty foot pole just wasn’t her flavor of Nibble Nook Slushie, they’d cheer that decision too. “Some people like this stuff and some people don’t,” I heard a child say to another who’d come along just to watch. “It’s brave to do what you want, either way.”

AMEN, child.

That kind of cheerleading makes a difference. With kids and adults too.

“I didn’t think I could do it,” Jayne said that night at devotions in the girls’ cabin. “I stood up there so high and I thought it was too hard. But then I heard everyone cheering for me, calling my name, saying I could do it. It really helped me not be so scared.”

YES! That’s what the best of cheerleading does. It’s what the best of friends do. It’s what CHURCH IS SUPPOSED TO DO! We stand beside each other and cheer each other on as we try to do hard things! As we all try to follow the way of Christ, we stand beside each other, calling each other’s names, reminding each other that we are all children of God, beautiful in God’s sight just as we are.

We tell each other to take deep breaths. YOU’VE GOT THIS! We say. And “WE HAVE TIME FOR YOU!” and then we give each other time and grace. We give each other ideas and we go to God together for God’s direction and wisdom. And then… we encourage each other to LEAP!

We can leap because we know Who holds us close. We know that even when it looks scary and completely undoable and ridiculous, that we will not be alone. We have a God who will not give up on us. And we have people who will stand with us too until the end. And cheer. And maybe even buy us ice cream.

Blessed are the cheerleaders, indeed.


Many thanks to Garry Knight for the flickr photo through Creative Commons 2.0.