Teaching Your Children How to Lose

My daughter wasn’t crying because she lost the spelling bee. She was crying because she got knocked out in the second round. She’s smart. That’s her thing. So missing the word tofu embarrassed her. To make it worse, she knew every word after that.

The tears started just as I was tucking her into bed. “I didn’t want to win the whole thing,” she said, “I just didn’t want to miss one so early.” What was I supposed to say? Better luck next time? Just keep trying? No one likes tofu?

We spend so much time as parents preparing our kids for success that sometimes we do a poor job of preparing them for failure. We help them with homework, drive them to soccer practice and even arrange play dates to help them thrive relationally.

Yet, no matter how much we set up our kids to win, sometimes they are going to lose. That’s just life in a fallen world. Despite their best effort, they will sometimes fail tests, get clobbered in soccer games and struggle to make friends.

How should we react in moments like this? How can we help them deal with disappointment while also preparing them to handle failure as adults?

Thankfully, the night of the spelling bee, God led the conversation exactly where it needed to go, and in the process, I discovered three things I will repeat every time my kids are dealing with failure.

  1. Empathize

Our kids need to know that we see their pain, and we care. When my daughters are hurting, my first instinct is to fix it. I want to give them advice, correct them or coach them how to do better next time.   However, in moments like these, I’m learning that the first thing they need is kindness. So when I didn’t know what to say, I just hugged my daughter and told her, “I know it’s hard and I’m sorry.”

  1. Affirm their identity.

Kids need to know that their value isn’t based on their performance. They are loved because they are children of God. Failure messes with our identity because we all tend to build our self-image around activities that give us affirmation.

That’s why it’s twice as hard when the smart kid gets knocked out of the spelling bee, or the athlete loses a game. A big part of our identity is based on areas of life where we excel.

That night, I reminded my daughter that she is a child of the king, adored by her Dad in heaven and her dad on earth and no spelling bee could change that. I told her that her worth doesn’t come from what she does, but whose she is. She is a daughter of God.

  1. Talk about kingdom.

Our kids need to discover a redemptive view of suffering in the small things to prepare them to navigate more challenging struggles in life. That’s why we need to point them back to the Bible in small moments like these.

Earlier that day, my daughter and I had been talking about Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding” (NLT). It had just popped into my head, and I felt prompted to share it with her. At the time I had no idea why.

When the spelling bee drama unfolded, however, I had a pretty good idea what God was up to. I mentioned the proverb again and suggested, “Maybe this is an opportunity to trust God.”

Later she confessed, “As soon as you read that verse to me, I knew it was about the spelling bee. I knew it was about me trusting God.”

I reminded her that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). That means sometimes He says no to a desire of our heart because He has a better yes waiting for us in the future. It means sometimes He lets us go through hardship so we can comfort others with the comfort we have received (2 Corinthians 1:4). It means that even bad things that happen can give us an opportunity to minister to others and advance the gospel (Phil 1:12).

And that, of course, is the ultimate win.

By reframing my daughter’s loss with a kingdom perspective, God helped me remind her that her life is part of a bigger story and that her purpose goes far beyond winning a spelling bee. At the end of the night, it was that part of conversation that made the biggest difference. She finally had peace about the situation, and soon afterwards, drifted off to sleep.

When it comes right down to it, God’s definition of winning and losing is very different than ours. After all, we follow a Savior who died on a cross. The more we can help our kids see their failures and frustrations from His point of view, the more we can guarantee they will continually experience the only victory that counts.

Need a Parenting Do-Over?

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I don’t know what 2015 was like in your home, but in mine, there are definitely some things I’d like to do over.  Times I became frustrated and snapped at my kids.  Times I let our family get overcommitted and exhausted.  Times I worked too much, prayed too little and neglected the things that really matter.

How about you?  If you could have a do-over from 2015, what would it be?

The great news is that our God is a God of second chances, and third and fourth and fifth and so on.  No matter what your parenting was like last year, no matter what mistakes you made, it’s a brand new day.  Not because it’s a new year, but because you’re a new creation, and every day is new with Jesus.

Don’t listen to the voices of failure and regret.  Don’t listen to the voices that say things will never change.  Listen to God’s voice.  Listen to His promises of hope, a hope that reminds us that every day is a fresh start with grace.

So, this year, don’t commit to being a perfect parent.  Commit to being a forgiven parent, a growing parent, a dependent parent, a desperate-for-God-parent, and day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month, you will raise kids who will become desperate for God themselves.

 

 

How to Keep from Getting Stuck

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I was stuck.  No way around it.  I had been flying down the interstate at 70 MPH when I heard a snap and the sound of metal grinding against pavement.  Not exactly what you want to hear on a road trip.

I had just been to the mechanic a few weeks ago, and he’d given me a long list of things I needed to get fixed but couldn’t afford.  As I took the next exit and pulled into a gas station I tried to guess which one it could be.  A quick glance under the car didn’t look good.

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I saw some sort of metal shell dragging the ground, and I had no idea what it was.   I can put gas in my car and change a flat tire.  But this?  This was way out of my league.

What exactly was hanging off my car and how important was it?  Was the car still drivable or would I need a tow truck?  I had no clue.  On my own, I would have been stuck there all day.

But I didn’t have all day.  I was on my way to a family ministry conference and had about ten minutes to spare. So, immediately, I texted my uncle Brian.  He’s spent years working on cars.  He’d know exactly what to do.

Sure enough he texted back and told me it was a heat shield.  The car was drivable if I could just break it off.  After about fifteen minutes of kicking it and whacking it with a tire iron, I did it.  I got unstuck and back on the road!

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As I was heading off down the interstate, I realized how much this adventure reminded me of my journey as a parent.  There are just some times as a dad I get stuck.  My kids face a challenge I don’t know how to deal with.  They need my help, but I have no idea what to do.

It’s in those times, I realize that I need someone else.  Not just another dad like me, but someone farther along in their journey.  I need someone who’s been where I’ve been and lived to tell the story.  And so do you.

In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul encouraged the church to “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”   In Philippians 4:9 he echoes this call to imitation when he says, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.”

Throughout the New Testament, we see this pattern of copying the life of Christ as we see it in wise and mature believers and then passing on that example to those who are coming up in the faith behind us.  In other words, if we want to disciple our kids well, we need to be discipled ourselves.

A few years ago, a friend of mine challenged me on this.  He said, “You’re trying to do this on your own.  Who is investing in you?”  I knew he was right.   So I began praying for God to send me a seasoned believer, that person who was farther down the road than me, who could help me go where I never could go on my own.

On the way home from work that day, I ran into Tom.  He’s a retired pastor who lives on my street.  He’s raised his kids and is a grandfather now.  As a parent and ministry veteran, he’s seen it all.  Most importantly, though, this guy’s sweet spirit just reminds me of Jesus.  So, I invited him to lunch and told him I wanted to learn from him.  I wanted to copy the life of Christ I see in him.

Now, instead of being stuck, I’m learning from someone who’s been down this road before.  I ask for prayer and soak up Tom’s hard-earned wisdom.  I’m honest about my challenges and failures.  Mostly I just do a lot of listening. Tom doesn’t have all the answers, but he asks great questions and helps me to listen to God and find a way forward.

So who can you learn from?  Who looks like Jesus to you?  Who do you know who has a life worth imitating and can help you as a parent?  For you, maybe this means joining a discipleship huddle or a spiritual mentoring group.  Or maybe it’s something less structured, just an ongoing series of lunches, like I have with my friend Tom.

Whatever it looks like in your life, don’t put it off any longer.  Make the phone call.  Send the text.  Reach out to that person who can help you take a next step.  Some day your kids will thank you for it as you pass the baton of faith onto them.