I raised an athlete. My son had a bent towards sports from the time he was a toddler. Balls, bats, or hockey sticks were the only toys that sustained his attention for long. Not being an athlete myself, I was not prepared as a mom for all that this would mean – many miles logged driving to practices and games, injuries and trips to the emergency room, emotional highs and crushing lows, coaches good and bad, and much unsolicited advice from others when they recognized my son’s talent.
I was also not prepared for the temptation to link my own worth and well being to the performance of my son in sports and somehow feel that I could take credit for his talent and success. Most of all, I was not prepared for the incredible cultural pull to make sports an idol in our lives and the difficult decisions that would entail.
An idol is something we serve and sacrifice for, something we depend on to meet the needs God was intended to meet in our lives. We need not look far to see that sports has been elevated to idol status in North American culture. The money and time dedicated to sports reveal that we regularly, and with great devotion, bow to the god of sport. What about your culture? If it’s not sports, it might be academic achievement or some other measure of success we encourage our children to pursue.
As believers we are called to push back against the cultural mindset of the world, not just float along in its current. We are to set God’s heart, His purposes, and His Kingdom agenda as our goal and not be pulled by cultural currents toward the shores of spiritual ineffectiveness. To reach our intended destination, we must think carefully about the place of sport and other pursuits in our children’s lives.
The desire to excel in any activity can be a good thing. It can develop discipline, perseverance, mastery of skills, and character. But it can also foster pride and self-glorification. It can teach our children to find satisfaction and worth in achievement, fame, trophies, and monetary rewards. It can lead them to build their identity not on Christ, but on athletics, academic success, or whatever our culture values as important.
As families living for God’s purpose, how can we avoid these pitfalls? We must regularly and prayerfully ask ourselves tough questions regarding what we emphasize in our children’s lives.
- What is my definition of success and how important is my child’s success to me?
- What are we willing to sacrifice in the quest for success in this area?
- What is the cost?
As my son nears the end of his college basketball career, I reflect back on our decisions as parents. We didn’t always get it right, but our son’s passion for sports and his hope that athletics would provide for his college education kept us carefully and prayerfully walking this tricky path. When the cultural current threatened to drag us under, we kept questioning, we kept praying, we kept making adjustments in our desire to walk the path that accomplished the purposes of God in our son’s life.
Those purposes were not always accomplished in the way we imagined. Last week my son suffered his second major concussion, and after a difficult season of losses and disappointments, watched his team win without him. A teammate stood beside him, also sidelined due to injuries. God had used my son to lead this teammate back to the Lord. When I asked my son how he was coping with not being a part of a big win, he said that not even winning a national championship would compare to the moment God used him to win a spiritual victory in his teammate’s life.
Trophies on a shelf or crowns of righteousness? As families living for God’s purposes, which will we choose?