Needed: Real Inspiration

Over the summer, on live TV, a man (with a tether) walked across Niagara Falls on a tightrope. It was quite the spectacle. Thousands of people gathered to watch. It was covered by multiple camera angles. Commentators chimed in with expert analysis. The man walking was miked. Viewers at home could listen in as he prayed, talked to his dad, and answered questions from the analysts. It took about 30 minutes to walk 1,800 feet.

When the man finished the “historic feat” on the Canadian side of the Falls, the American aerialist was required to show his passport to Canadian officials. When asked for the “purpose of his visit,” he replied, “To inspire people around the world.” Now, if anyone needs to be inspired, it’s people watching TV on a Friday night (like me). I’ll give him that. But I was left pondering this: inspired to do what, exactly? For about 10 minutes I genuinely considered walking across a body of water on a rope. I thought I’d start small with a few puddles in the backyard. Gradually, I would set up some kind of apparatus to walk across a small creek or tributary. And then, if I could raise enough money, obtain the proper permits, and negotiate a (local) TV contract, I imagined myself taking a shot treading above the Susquehanna River. But then I thought, “Nah.” Luckily for me, the eleven o’clock SportsCenter was about to begin. For the next 30 minutes I would be inspired to be like LeBron James. A 5’10”, 175 pound version, but LeBronesque, nonetheless.

After talking to a good friend recently on the phone for about 30 minutes, I was reminded by how much this person genuinely inspires me. What has inspired me the most over the past ten years has been witnessing her attentiveness and faithfulness in the “little things.” She is kind, thoughtful and encouraging. She loves her family, quietly does meaningful work mentoring college students and consistently and confidently reminds others, by word and deed, of the hope she has in the resurrected Lord. Her life has not been easy. Life isn’t. She’s not perfect. No one is. I’m pretty sure she has never walked a tightrope. She has important things to do. But, step by step, she has crossed many valleys with grace and courage. My friend has inspired me to be a better student, husband, and parent, not from accomplishing a once impossible feat, but by showing me that living a daily, faithful life is possible, step by step.

There is a lot of talk these days about delayed adolescence. It has been described as a “failure to launch.” According to many social scientists and cultural critics, young people are not “growing up.” A video for a new book by journalist Sally Koslow, Slouching Toward Adulthood, reveals that:

85% of last year’s college graduates moved home

56% of bachelor’s degree holders under the age of 25 are jobless or underemployed

59% of adults aged 18-39 who are not students get financial aid from their parents

I am still on the fence as to whether or not the majority of young people are simply immature or if modern social conditions are redefining adulthood. But I do know that young people need to be inspired to live well-lived lives that matter. And I am more and more convinced that what is needed is deeper, mentoring relationships between the young and old. This is neither a magic bullet solution to the “problem” of emerging adulthood or a novel proposition. Ancients have taught us that wisdom and maturity come from being around wise and mature people. People inspire us and slowly we begin to model their behavior. The question is what is keeping this from happening in our culture. I think inspiration is the key. Maybe we’ve forgotten how to inspire or what good inspiration looks like.