The Karate Kid – the original version, which came out in 1984 – is one of my all-time favorite movies. Why? Well, I could relate to Daniel LaRusso, the introverted, awkward, skinny underdog who was valiantly trying to make friends and fit in at his new school in California. Plus, most boys my age saw the film and instantly developed a hopeless crush on Ali Mills in all of her ponytailed spunkiness, and could empathize with Daniel’s wistful desire to win her heart and be the hero of the story. Finally, I loved the movie because I knew what it was like to be bullied, and the feeling of helplessness that stemmed from a sheer inability to stand up for myself. I mean, no one had ever shown me what to say or what to do when other kids gave me crap or pushed me around.
As you’ll recall, Daniel didn’t either. Until he met Mr. Miyagi, and his life was forever changed.
The aforementioned reasons underscore why the movie enjoyed commercial and critical success, Mr. Miyagi and his role in Daniel’s life still stands out in my mind decades later. If you’re familiar with the story, you remember that he was the repairman at Daniel’s new apartment complex, and early in the movie he defends Daniel against five members of the Cobra Kai. As a result, Daniel asks Mr. Miyagi to teach him how to fight, and is then taken under his wing. Through this relationship, Daniel not only learns karate, but also many lessons of greater import related to life, relationships, stability, confidence, and courage.
Through this relationship, Daniel not only learns karate, but also many lessons of greater import related to life, relationships, stability, confidence, and courage.
I wanted that. I wanted that so badly. And I saw it all in so many other stories: Luke Skywalker had Obi Wan, Neo had Morpheus, Harry had Dumbledore, Frodo had Gandalf, and Peter Parker had Uncle Ben. I can’t express to you how much these relationships resonated with my heart – and still do, even today: the desire for an older man to come along and train up the next generation in the way he should go. To mentor me, encourage me, and teach me tangible skills. To advocate for me, champion me, to always have my back. To simply be there – as a guide, as a sage – and remind me that I didn’t have to face everything alone. Author John Eldredge writes about how that is the primary thing all men struggle with: the feeling that everything is up to us, that there’s no one out else interested or available to really help us through the tough stuff of life. I know that is a plaguing thought with which I wrestle constantly. The question remains: who really is there for me…to show me the ropes, to go to bat for me, to teach me the ways of the warrior?
The question remains: who really is there for me…to show me the ropes, to go to bat for me, to teach me the ways of the warrior?
My dad and I are very close, and he has raised me well to be a man of integrity, wisdom, discipline, and cultivated in me a deep love and loyalty to family. But I didn’t receive spiritual mentorship from him. Instead, three pastors invested in me over the years: Pastor Mark in Orlando, Pastor Bob in West Palm Beach, and Pastor Matt in Stuart. They have taught me about true faith, and developing a friendship with God, and waiting for His best, no matter what. In between, I also was spiritually mentored by a number of Christian authors who taught me about authentic masculinity, how to honor and cherish a woman, how to set boundaries for healthy living, and how to remain stable in the midst of storms. Sure, I would have loved to learn those things from people in real life, but that wasn’t what happened. The cool thing, though, is that God’s plan to train me up in the way I should go wasn’t dependent on the people immediately around me. He made so much of it happen through books, and I am grateful for that.
Even still, there is so much that feels solely up to me. I wish someone would teach me more about investing, about certain home improvement projects, about how my car works, about how to build a successful business, and about how to walk the line between letting others know what you have to offer, and waiting for God’s hand to exalt you in due time (1 Peter 5:6). Right now, I’m having to learn a lot on my own – and pretty much every guy I talk to feels the same way. It’s not easy. In fact, it’s downright exhausting. I think of Thoreau’s words…how the mass of men are leading lives of quiet desperation. Honestly, I think there is a bit of desperation in trying to figure out how to do life well on your own, and fending off the questions and lies and accusations and doubts that you are in this alone, with no one really there to help you.
There is a bit of desperation in trying to figure out how to do life well on your own, and fending off the questions and lies and accusations and doubts that you are in this alone, with no one really there to help.
Most of the time, I trust Him to be what I need, give me what I need, and provide the right opportunities and people in my life at the right time. Occasionally, I cry out to Him for more, because I do need guidance and insight and tangible help. I do. We all do. I’m okay with that. And He understands.
Through all of this, I’m learning two things. One is that I need to pay it forward. Well, let me strengthen that statement: I want to pay it forward. And so I’m trying to be readily available and am seizing every opportunity to do that when it’s clear God wants me to step in. And He does make it very clear – I know when He is sovereignly orchestrating it, and when I want to do it only because I feel the need to try to rescue the other person. It works out so much better when it’s arranged by Him, instead of rooted solely in my own human effort. I find great joy in guiding and mentoring the teens He has put in my life, and He keeps confirming that I am made to do this, that I am meant to do this. This also helps me stay balanced, so I am not wasting my life building my own kingdom and a protected, comfortable little life for myself. I don’t want that. I want a life that is epic, one that has a transcendent and inspirational impact for many. And I have learned over and over again that any other kind of life is pretty empty.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” ~ King Solomon
The second thing I am learning is that I need to position myself so that others see a need and want to help me, as they are prompted by God. If no one sees or hears about my needs, no one will rise up to the challenge. No one will pray about whether God wants them to step in and be that guide or mentor or positive influence in my life. I do believe that other men are surrendered to His will and leadings, and would gladly swoop in to help a younger brother out when the occasion presents itself. This is because they have experienced the same need, or they themselves were taught and counseled along the way, or they viscerally understand that – like Jesus – the best lived life is the one poured out for others. Thinking back to Daniel and Mr. Miyagi, it’s patently obvious how much the Karate Kid needed and benefited from his sensei. But upon closer observation, it’s also clear that Mr. Miyagi needed and benefited from Daniel in his life in equally wonderful life-altering ways.
Asking for help is super hard, and goes against the things I have told myself to steel up my defenses, and grit and grind through life as I’ve known it. But I know I must.
So, I am trying to ask for help more often. I can’t do everything – and really don’t want to do everything – on my own. But asking for help is super hard, and goes against the things I have told myself to steel up my defenses, and grit and grind through life as I’ve known it. But I know I must. I know it is the right, healthy, and honest thing to do, even if it renders me vulnerable to rejection and failure. I have to ask. And just see what happens.
And no matter what, I have to trust the process. Even if someone doesn’t come through for me, I know that God will. He always has, in one way or the other.
Let us all be more sensitive to the needs we see around us, particularly those which we could rise up and meet. Let us be quick to come through for others, because we remember how much we have needed someone to come through for us. Let us do so enthusiastically, knowing that we are spending our life in the most worthy of pursuits, honoring God, and doing Him proud. And let us humbly but pointedly ask others to consider being that guide, that sage, that mentor in our lives. If they say yes, they will be blessed. If they say no, the only thing that will hurt is our pride. And even then, we can hold onto the truth that God is still working everything together for our good, and He’ll make something else awesome happen – in time.