Growing up in rural Iowa and Nebraska, there wasn't much to do, but there was always access to some great fishing. There was a little dam in Linn Grove Park in Rockwell, Iowa, where I regularly caught bluegill and crappie. On our annual 4-day family vacation to Okoboji, Iowa, we caught one hundred bullheads in one day!
As a kid, I would often travel to Cedar Creek, which was about a five-mile bike ride from my home in Elgin, Nebraska. There I caught catfish from a huge fishing hole that had been created when a cottonwood tree, while still rooted and growing from the bank, had fallen across the creek. My childhood fishing experiences taught me persistence (because sometimes you get skunked), openness to feedback (because if you're not catching fish you need to try a new location, a new lure or a new tactic), and of course, how to tell a good story. (I was especially good at the storytelling.)
I honestly thought that I was a pretty good fishermen until I started my career at Boys Town. Here, I met three master fishermen who excel at these three qualities – persistence, openness to feedback and the ability to tell a good story.
From Tony Jones I learned persistence. Tony is a Boys Town Alumnus who went on to serve as a Family-Teacher for 23 years, and is now Senior Vice President of Boys Town Successful Futures.
Early in the morning, on one of my first visits to the Boys Town summer camp at Lake Okoboji, I walked down to the dock. There was Tony, fishing at the end of the pier. Surprised to see anyone, I commented, “Wow, you really got up early!" He replied, “Nope. I've been here all night. Look at this big walleye I caught!" That's persistence.
Another master fisherman I met was Dr. Dan Daly. He has now retired as Boys Town's Executive Vice President of Youth Care. Dan has been fly fishing since 1970. He taught me how to “work" a trout stream and is a pro at choosing which fly to throw. Despite his genuine expertise, Dan never failed to ask me, the amateur, which fly I was using when I caught my last fish. That's a great example of openness to feedback!
From Pat Connell, Boys Town Healthcare Policy Advocate, I learned to tell a great fishing story. Pat had recently returned from a fly-fishing trip to Belize, and he told me how he had used a shrimp lure which he had personally tied, to attract a big bonefish away from the school. He told about how this fish worked so hard to get free, that despite the rod's resistance, it swam away to a length of over one hundred feet of line and was still pulling before it finally ran out of energy. Pat explained how it took him more than 30 minutes to get the fish in the boat because it was about 28-inches long and weighed about 10 pounds. As Pat was about to hold the fish so his guide could take the photo, the fish got free and jumped. Rather than let it hit the bottom of the boat, Pat just flipped the fish back in the water. What a great story!
Similarly, I am confident that Peter, Andrew, James and John thought they were pretty good fisherman and leaders of men until they met Jesus, the Master. Jesus must have blown them away with his mastery of the three key qualities of a fisherman. First, Jesus could tell a good story. When he proclaimed the Good News of the Gospel, people left their families, friends and professions behind to follow him. Jesus was also open to feedback. He regularly pulled his apostles aside to ensure that they truly comprehended the Gospel by asking them questions to test their understanding, and he adjusted his teaching to deepen their faith. Thirdly, Jesus was persistent. He did not let rejection bother him. He simply moved on to the next town and kept preaching, healing and calling new disciples.
As adults and leaders, we need to do the same – especially for our kids. We need to tell the story of our own faith journey, how we understand our faith and ways it can help us and them during difficult times. We need to set a good example for our kids by living out the values of our faith and sharing that faith with them and others.
Secondly, we need to be open to feedback when we share the faith with our kids. We need to genuinely listen to them, especially when they disagree or question the teachings of faith. The questions they ask are actually a sign that they're taking their faith seriously. We need to respond to them with openness, acknowledging the truth in their opinions, while still standing up for our faith.
Thirdly, we must be persistent. Some kids may reject all or part of their faith for a time; maybe even a long time. We cannot let this discourage us. We must keep loving them, inviting them to participate, sharing our faith and being open to their feedback. Remember, even master fishermen like Jesus or Buddha or Allah have the story of “the one who got away!"