At the recent end-of-year Awards Night of our local Christian-Parent Controlled School it was a delight to celebrate the completion of another school year and to rejoice with the students as their gifts and labours were acknowledged.
For a fleeting moment I questioned the giving of awards. Some students were bedecked with three or even four awards. Other students had to be satisfied with the book that all students were given to mark their transition to the next class in 2015.
My mind turned to the kind of thinking that was prevalent in some circles some years ago (perhaps still today?) that we must not single students out for such attention. So no awards are given and no talents are recognised. Well, that’s not quite true. The idea is that everyone is praised for their skills and if awards are to be given they are given to everyone. No one is allowed to miss out. Some take this quest for equality even further and refuse to have children participate in competitive sports. After all, in competitive sports we have winners and losers and we don’t want children “damaged” by that kind of singling out of the strong from the weak.
In some ways I understand the motivation behind this. It’s not pleasant being the loser and being a winner can lead to an inflated ego.
One incident from my childhood made me acutely aware of the problem. At school, teams were often chosen by two team captains taking turn to choose fellow students for their particular team. The ones who were chosen first were invariably the ones who were either very popular or were very good at the particular sport in question. My problem was that I was a dorky migrant kid and back in those days there were lots of sports that didn’t particularly take my fancy. So? Yep, you guessed it. It got to the point when there were only four of us to choose from and the teacher would put us out of our misery by saying, “Okay, you and you on this team, and you and you on that team.”
The question is whether that experienced damaged me emotionally? Did I as a result, grow up with a bad case of low self-esteem? Not really!
Perhaps it didn’t cause damage because on balance there were also those other experiences. Yes, I was a loser in that I usually found myself in that little group of four left-overs. But those experiences were balanced out by compensating experiences. At an inter-school athletics competition I was the second of two students representing our school but won third prize while the lad whom I seconded in the selection process came fourth. Or there was the time I topped the class in maths. Those events where I was a winner helped to ensure I wasn’t too damaged by my experiences as a loser.
I guess the problem is with those who are just average in everything and are never, ever winners. It’s a big job parenting children who lament that they are no good at anything. That job becomes even more difficult when that child is called a loser by his peers.
And yet – should we worry too much about these things? Should we shield our children from being winners and losers?
At the Awards Night I found my thoughts turning in a different direction: how well this was preparing these students for the harsh realities of life where there are a winners and losers in a thousand and one areas. We may be able to shield our children from that to some extent when they are at school but they can’t avoid it when they try to find their place in the real world. There’s the winner who got the job and the loser who missed out. There’s the winner who found a life partner and the loser who is still looking. There’s the winner whose bid on a new house was accepted and the loser who found his offer rejected.
The secret is knowing ourselves to be children of the King, adopted sons and daughters of God – regardless of whether we have just had a win or a loss. Knowing who we are in Christ will keep us from despair when we lose and from pride when we win. Losing may even help us in that often-painful process of sanctification.
In fact if we want to speak about being winners or losers then there is only one place where that really does matter. The real winners are those to whom the King will one day say, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master.” On that day the real losers will be those who hear the words, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”
Winning or losing on that day will have nothing to do with winning a school award or being chose for a sporting team. In fact, you can be a loser in everything else and still be winner on the last day. All that matters is that we walk by faith with Jesus.