Those of you who read my blog consistently (maybe like, 4 people --- Hi, Mom) probably know that I'm a summer camp counselor. And you also probably know that I LOVE it. It's my favorite job in the history of the world. (Not an exaggeration.) Every summer I am blown away by the talent and kind hearts these kids bring to camp, and I walk away from every week of camp with nuggets of wisdom (usually from the kiddos!) and my heart changed in some way. And also lots of pictures of me and my team covered head to toe in a particular color for team spirit day. All in all, camp is more often than not one positive experience after another, and I leave with my heart filled with joy.
But sometimes stuff happens at camp that makes me stop in my tracks and think, "Why is this happening? This isn't right." Recently I had an experience like this.
See, at camp, we award points throughout the week as an incentive to behave, practice their lines (it's a theater camp), respect and encourage one another, and just work hard overall. At the end of every day we tally up the points and declare a winning team, who then get popsicles. (You'd be surprised how easily satisfied kids can be, even by small things like freezy pops.) We counselors pay close attention and provide lots of opportunities for the campers to earn points and do our best to discourage unhealthy behavior when it comes to the idea of competition. We highly encourage good sportsmanship and are quick to reign things in when they get out of hand.
And usually, this system works great. The kids have fun, and we see positive results both in their performance on Friday and their character development throughout the week.
But sometimes we see flare ups. Occasionally we'll deal with parents who approach us and ask why *their* child didn't get a popsicle. We explain our point system to those who are new to camp, and usually they go, "Oh, okay, cool." (I should mention that while we keep this very hush-hush with the campers, we make sure that every team wins at least once throughout the week. We aren't trying to be mean tyrants here.)
But sometimes, we get angry parents, who walk up to us demanding to know why their child didn't get a popsicle, and sometimes they even ask us to give them one for their kid anyway. Sometimes their child will be at their side, bawling their eyes out because they didn't win. Sometimes, even after we kindly but firmly explain our system and rules, the parents are STILL mad.
And it makes me stop and wonder: What is wrong with this picture?
I mean, while we could easily provide freezy pops for every camper every day, we'd be missing the point of the whole thing.
I'm going to suggest something that maybe will be uncomfortable to some people:
Everybody can't win all the time.
Maybe I lost a few readers there, but if you're still here, allow me to expound on this truth:
In life, there are going to be times when you win, and times when you lose. When you win, you have every right to feel good about what you accomplished, and to humbly (please notice that word) celebrate. And rewards? Those are GOOD things. Imagine a world where we didn't reward winners. It wouldn't make winning very meaningful, would it?
Oh wait.... We DO live in a world like that.
I mean, you've seen it. The softball tournaments where even the losing teams get trophies? The academic and arts competitions that have a winner, a runner up, a second runner up, a third runner up, and about 15 honorable mentions?
It gets to the point where it's like, "What are we even DOING here?"
I have a question: Why are we so scared of rewarding winners?
And I don't mean rewarding everyone. Because let me say again: Not everyone is a winner all the time.
But why can't we just let there be one winner - one winning team - one group of kids that get freezy pops? What are we afraid is going to happen?
And also: Why are we terrified of losing?
Why do we struggle SO MUCH with winning and losing as a culture? Why do we have livid parents demanding popsicles at summer camp? It doesn't make sense.
SOME THOUGHTS ON WINNING
I think we need to gain a more healthy perspective about winning.
First of all - it's not the end all be all.
Winning is a really good thing, but it won't satisfy you. The second you make winning at everything an idol, you lose sight of what winning is all about: working hard at something you're passionate about, and seeing excellent results.
Secondly, the whole "coming out on top" part isn't what's important. What really matters is how you played the game. We say that a lot to people when they lose, but we don't often say it to people when they win. Think about that.
Also, your attitude post-win will almost always match your attitude pre-win. That is, if you're humble beforehand, you probably will be afterwards as well. It's all about where your heart is.
SOME THOUGHTS ON LOSING
It's time for us to stop giving trophies to the team that came in last and popsicles to the kids who didn't memorize their lines. Not just because it doesn't make sense - but also because it communicates a powerfully destructive idea about losing, and people in general: Losing is failure, and people who fail are worth nothing.
This is wrong thinking, of course, but we often aren't brave enough to suggest another alternative, so instead of dealing with losing for what it really is, we cover it up with trophies and popsicles and honorable mentions. We do everything we can to cover the injury, instead of getting in there and fixing what's actually wrong.
But what is the right perspective on losing? What does it mean to have peace with it? CAN we have peace with it?
Well, first off, I think our fear of losing is aggravated by our culture's obsession with winning and being "the best." We live in a "bigger-better-louder-faster-funnier-give me what I want right now" culture. We photo-shop the men and women on our magazines into impossible shapes and create ridiculous standards for what is considered "the best." We support billion-dollar entertainment industries including sports teams, fiercely compete with our neighbors and friends during football season and the World Cup, and name-call quarterbacks who throw interceptions and center-forwards who miss goals. In many cases, we make it nearly impossible to be successful.
But more than that, when we DO succeed, we rub it in everybody's faces. And when people lose - we jump at the opportunity to make them feel lesser because of it. And when it's US who lose?? We spend days kicking ourselves and laying on the negative self-talk.
We've forgotten how to be graceful winners, and we've also forgotten how to be confident losers. And it isn't made any easier when we're battered by such a culture as ours.
But secondly, and I think more-so, our fear of losing comes from the insecurities we hide deep inside of us - the fear that our culture makes worse, but didn't create. The fear that we are worthless.
But here's the thing: Losing doesn't equal worthless.
Let that sink in...
Losing or winning at something is NOT what determines our worth.
But that's what we believe. And it terrifies us. (So out come the miniature trophies...)
So here's the big question: If winning and losing doesn't determine our worth, what does?
WHO WE ARE: REDEEMED
Once upon a time, each and every one of us was a loser.
A big time, all-out, complete and total LOSER.
We turned away from a Sovereign God who made us and loves us, and we decided to do things *our* way.
And that Sovereign God? He came running after us.
He sent he son Jesus to die the death WE deserved for denying Him, and made a way back to Himself for everyone who will accept it.
And He didn't leave us to figure this out on our own. He gave us His Word - The Bible - to teach us about Himself and The Way He provided, to encourage us by reminding us of His unfailing love, and to help us know how we can become more like Jesus.
Because you see, THAT is what a true winner is: Someone who has answered the call and is pursuing Jesus daily. Someone who hungers and thirsts for righteousness, and is running after God's heart.
And losing? Losing stops being scary when we remember who we used to be, and who we are now: redeemed children of God, created in His image and bought by His blood. When we were at our ugliest? When we turned from Him? He came and FOUND us, and is making all things new. So we don't have to fear making mistakes or losing at things, because we serve a God who loves us and pursues us and fills us with purpose and worth - win or lose.
So while I can't possibly say all of this to the frustrated parent at camp, or the upset softball team at the championship game, I can do my best to sum it up quickly: Whether we're rewarding a job well done with a popsicle, or consoling the losing team after the big game, we can know this: All of us are known and loved by the same God, and He is the one who defines our worth, win or lose.