Thursday, November 8, 2012

Winning and Losing

Winning and losing have been on everyone's mind this week. For instance, my brother-in-law, a football coach, had his 100th win as head coach in the final seconds of the game on Saturday. The Voice, Dancing with the Stars, and The X Factor all sent some losing contestants home.  Journalist Alex S. Jones has been talking about his new book Losing the News and how losing the news will affect a democratic society. And speaking of democratic societies, there was an election on Tuesday, and in most cases, for every winner there was a loser. Teaching your kids how to win and how to lose is one of the jobs you get to do as their parents.

Most of us do pretty well at teaching our kids to win. We encourage them to set goals. We help them improve on their own best times. We hire coaches or private lesson teachers. We buy them better equipment, or better clothing, depending on the contest. We cheer them on, work the concession stand, and generally support them any way we can. We also teach them how to be gracious when they win, to avoid bragging and gloating, and to give credit to those who helped them win.

When they lose, we are there for them. We analyze what they did well, coach them to improve their performance in future contests, and generally try to help them avoid feeling like a failure. We help them find the lesson in the loss. After all, losing is one of the places where we learn what really matters to us. We also try to teach them good sportsmanship - shaking the competitor's hand and not letting their disappointment show too much.

Into this internal conversation come Jesus' words from Luke: "What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?" I am always taken aback by this statement. I recently read Eugene Peterson's eloquent paraphrase of that question: "What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?" Wow! What are we willing to do to win? For what would you sell your soul? Your child was created in the image of God. Your child has a true self, and that self reflects God. It is no small feat to preserve that true self in a world that tries to distort it.

None of us gets to adulthood without compromising some part of ourselves to win at something. It is unfortunate, and perhaps outside of God's plan, that competition has become such an integral part of our lives. Fortunately, that's where forgiveness comes in; it washes away the violations of true self we commit in order to win. As the psalmist says, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me."  That right spirit returns us to our true selves.

You can do this parents. God has gifted you with this particular child. You have what it takes to help him win without losing his true self. You also have what it takes to help her when she loses. Sooner or later we all lose, and in that losing we find ourselves again. God is in the middle of that paradox. Keep trying!

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