I have a tenacious little wrestler. He has a small frame but the biggest heart. He hits the mat for each bout with courage and confidence. He has the moves and knows how to use them. He is scrappy. He is tough. He fights hard to the end. And he almost always loses.
This is the life of my eight-year-old son. The whole month of March is often one demoralizing loss after another. Last year was a lot of the same. As was the year before. Why not just quit? Why not move on to some other activity where success might come more easily?
It would be easier to direct him toward something else if he hated wrestling. He loves it. If he wasn’t so committed to trying again. He is more than committed. It would definitely be a good idea to strongly suggest something else if losing didn’t bother him, but the weight of defeat nearly breaks him. Nearly but not quite. It’s hard to convince someone to give up when they really don’t have it in them to quit.
If quitting isn’t an option and winning is elusive, what are parents to do?
Here are a few ways we’ve handled my son’s difficult season(s):
We’ve learned to count our victories and successes where we find them.
In the midst of my son’s wrestling failures, we look for successes. What did my son do well? Did he wrestle hard? Did he make the other boy earn his win? We celebrate making it past the first period. We celebrate not getting pinned. We celebrate each point scored. We proclaim his black eye a badge of courage.
We’ve learned that we must be willing to be changed by truth.
The reason we add up and celebrate all the small victories is because it’s very easy for my son to equate losing with being a loser. It’s heartbreaking to hear my son cry, “All I am is a loser,” between matches. Yes, he lost his match. But I want him to know that his identity is not wrapped up in wins and losses. What makes me so proud of my son is that he is willing to hear the truth his dad and I pour into him between bouts. He is willing to be encouraged…re-couraged. We remind him that even though he lost, he’s a tough fighter. We remind him that win or lose, we love him and are extremely proud of him. My son hears us. With tears of disappointment still wet on his cheeks, he resolves to believe us and musters the strength to go again.
My son is a real life example to me of a heart willing to be changed by the truth. In a matter of minutes, I have witnessed my son go from a devastated little boy to a boy with grit and courage, willing to face another opponent. Believing what is true about himself is what makes this change possible.
The lessons I’ve been forced to teach my son through wrestling are lessons I need to keep learning about life.
Life is full of metaphorical wrestling matches. We all have seasons in which we battle and claw and fight. Sometimes we fight against an opponent. Sometimes we fight toward an achievement. Either way, sometimes we still end up losing. When I face bitter loss or disappointment, do I flee so readily to the arms of my Father? When I reach His arms, do I allow His truth to sink in and remind me that my identity is in Him and not in my failures or successes?
My prayer is to be like my tenacious wrestler: To face life’s challenges with courage, to seek refuge and truth in the arms of my Father when I lose, and to allow my heart to be encouraged and empowered to fight again.