the grace of discipleship.

Americans hate participation trophies.

There’s all sorts of rhetoric about how the culture (for lack of a better term) of participation is detrimental to our children and their future – how if you’re taught that it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, you’re bound to lose later because you fail to give your best effort, or maybe your best just isn’t that good, and you’re in for a world of disappointment when you get into a job where your performance does indeed call for excellence and you don’t just get credit for trying.

I think there’s a commercial somewhere in which a dad takes his son’s participation trophy, scratches out the word “participant” and replaces it with “champion.” Kinda warm, right?

There’s an episode of one of my favorite television shows in which a husband coaches a kids basketball team and swears he’ll never accept the participation trophy – he just wants to win. In the end, he ends up taking the trophy because his wife gives it to him and it means a lot, and he becomes less concerned with winning, etc.

On some level, there is a resistance in our human consciousness to the idea of participation being enough. And I have a lot of that resistance. I wouldn’t wear my softball shirt from 2012 if it said “Co-ed Softball Participants” instead of “Co-ed Softball Champions.

But I find that ironic, given how many times I fail in other avenues. I’m glad I still get credit for trying at my job – even though I’m definitely not as excellent as I should be: I don’t give the best service, I don’t adequately control costs, I’m not thorough like I should be, I cut corners here and there, I don’t respond professionally or on-time to every email…but I’m still on board. And people are still, to some degree, happy with me. There’s not pressure on me and my job, which is great.

I’m glad I still get to be my parents’ son, even though I’m sure I’m a lousy one – I hardly come visit, I don’t really call or keep them in the loop on some things, I forget to pay for the dog food my dog (which they’re keeping for me) eats…but I’m still their son.

I’m glad I still get to be a tenant at my apartment even though I frequently pay rent a few days late.

I’m glad I still get to be an American even though I regularly break laws (mostly speeding, probably,) I don’t take half of my civic responsibilities seriously, and I’m critical of politicians and the political system.

There’s an irony about it, isn’t there?

There’s an irony about being imperfect. Because as human beings, we instinctively want to do things very well (at least, some of us, if not most of us) but there’s always someone better than us. There is no best. I swear, there isn’t. At work, my boss is a better purchaser and inventory manager than I am. But he learned from someone, who learned from someone, who learned from someone. As a writer, there are hundreds of blogs out there more worthy of your time and attention than mine is. There are Instagrammers who take better photos and take the whole project more seriously than I do. There are better songwriters than I. Better preachers. Better Christians. Better atheists. Better people.

The culmination of this thought process (which is by no means a destination or conclusion) is found in Jesus’ words to His disciples in Luke22:28. Contextually, Jesus says this right after the famous passage about the Lord’s Supper – how the bread is His body and the wine is His blood and it all represents a new covenant. Then, the disciples start bickering because Jesus said one of them would betray Him. And they start talking about who’s going to be the greatest, and Jesus stops them, talks to them about servant leadership, and then says this, which made me almost laugh out loud.

“You are those who have stayed with Me in My trials…”

Wait, really? These little disciples, who made a habit out of bickering about who would be the greatest (it didn’t only happen in the room with the Lord’s supper, it happened a number of times in the gospels;) who rejected children only to have Jesus rebuke them (the disciples) and explain how really, only children understood the kingdom of God; who asked if they should call fire down upon people; who didn’t believe that Jesus could make a meal out of five loaves and two fish (to be fair, I wouldn’t believe that either;) and numerous other things – Jesus said they stayed with Him through His trials? I don’t even think the disciples understood Jesus’ heart half of the time.

But wait, there’s more. These disciples, the ones Jesus said stayed with Him in His trials, were all about to split.

They’d fall asleep in the garden while He prayed. You stayed with Me in My trials.

They’d run away there while Jesus was arrested (well, except for Peter.) You stayed with Me in My trials.

Peter would deny Him three times. You stayed with Me in My trials.

They’d walk with Him on the road to Emmaus, after He was resurrected, and wouldn’t even recognize Him until He said just the right thing. You stayed with Me in My trials.

That doesn’t sound like faithfulness to me. That doesn’t sound like strength to me. That doesn’t sound like dignity or longsuffering or perseverance to me.

Here’s what makes a little more sense – what if Jesus wasn’t talking about the disciples’ faithfulness, but His own? Let’s flip the script a little bit and air some of my own dirty laundry while I’m at it. First, I’ll be the disciples, then I’ll use my own voice.

I fell asleep in the garden while You prayed, but You stayed with me, even in Your trials.

I ran away while the Romans arrested You, but You stayed with me, even in Your trials.

I denied You three times, but You stayed with me, even in Your trials.

I didn’t recognize you on the way to Emmaus, but You stayed with me in Your trials.

I questioned everything about this faith, but You stayed with me in Your trials.

I broke your design for sex and got in bed with someone who wasn’t my wife, but You stayed with me in Your trials.

I looked away while my neighbor starved, but You stayed with me in Your trials.

I stored up for myself treasures on earth, but You stayed with me in Your trials.

I cursed my friends and co-workers and failed to treat them with kindness, but You stayed with me in Your trials.

I made fun of and mocked Your church, but You stayed with me in Your trials.

I value my ego above the well-being and encouragement of others, but You stayed with me in Your trials.

I, daily, fail You, and my friends, and my family in innumerable ways, but You stayed with me in Your trials.

It’s the only explanation that makes any sense – at least to me – there’s no way that the disciples were that faithful to Jesus, and the evidence is there to prove that. There’s no way I’ve been that faithful to Jesus now, nor would I have been if I were around then. But it is possible (and logical, and true) that Jesus somehow carried us with Him in His trials, so we truly were with Him, just not the way we may realize, not the way we may think. We were with Him because He chose for us to be – and that’s the beauty of the whole thing.

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