Thanksgiving Changes

The week of Thanksgiving…what a great week! Football, food, family (not in that order)—all good things. I have celebrated over 40 (getting close to 50) Thanksgivings in my life. I can’t remember a bad one. Even though all of my memories are good, I must admit Thanksgiving has changed through the years. The holiday looks different as an adult than it did as a kid or teen. Let me explain.

Thanksgiving as a Child

My family would load up and go to my grandparent’s house in what was then the rural town of Albertville, AL. My grandparents (on my dad’s side) lived on a farm that had cows, a couple of horses, a cornfield and a 40-acre Pecan orchard. There was plenty of open space to roam, play football or have a dirt clod battle in the barn (some of those dirt clods smelled suspicious). At these gatherings I remember seeing more food than could possibly be eaten, having days I wish would not end and sometimes laughing so hard that my face and stomach hurt.

Both of my parents are from this town so my aunts, uncles and cousins from both sides of the family would be there. My mom’s family was smaller than my dad’s so most of the time they would join us on the farm. My grandmother (on my mom’s side) was a sweet, quiet lady who constantly smiled. Thanksgiving for her was different than it was for the rest of us. She had lost her husband to heart disease many years earlier, outlived some of her children and experienced many disappointments in life. Thanksgiving to her was a reminder of who was not there. Even though she laughed and celebrated with all of us, I can still remember seeing sadness in her eyes. I saw in her that it is possible to be thankful even when life has been hard.

Thanksgiving as a Husband

When I got married, my family grew. I could no longer just go to Albertville and celebrate. My wife’s parents became a part of my family. They live in Clearwater, FL. Cherry’s parents are lovely people, but they are unique. They march to their own drum and rarely change the beat for anyone else. We love them and enjoy being with them, but it is not always easy. In spite of this, we wanted to spend the holiday with them.

For the first several years of our marriage, the years prior to kids, Thanksgiving turned into a road trip to Clearwater. I can’t tell you how thankful I am for those trips. Even though I missed my family in Albertville, I was having a blast with Cherry and her family. I learned as life changes we gain more people to be thankful for even when those people are different than us. That became abundantly clear when we had kids; and Thanksgiving changed again. With kids, road trips became more challenging and expensive. Thanksgiving began turning into grandparents coming to us.

Thanksgiving away from Family

In 2007, Cherry and I shared with our parents that God had opened a door for us to move to California. We were excited about the opportunity and even though our parents were very supportive, they were also sad. It was our first Thanksgiving in CA when their sadness caught up to me. It would be the first time we would not be with any extended family. We would be alone. I’ll never forget Cherry crying in bed on Thanksgiving morning. I’ll always remember telling the boys that we were not going to AL or FL and that no one was coming to us. I can still see their blank stares that silently screamed, “What are we going to do?”

That first year was rough, but it got better. God gave us new friends and even though they were not family, the friends became like family. For a couple of years one family in particular, the Hernandez clan always invited us to spend Thanksgiving with them. One year we spent the holiday at one of the prettiest places on the planet: Lake Tahoe. Cherry had a co-worker who let us use her cabin. To this day that Thanksgiving weekend has been one of my favorites.

We now live in Ohio. Our kids are teenagers. It is next to impossible to go to AL or FL for a holiday weekend. Grandparents come to us some years, but we never see any extended family. We have now made our own traditions, invited others to join us in our celebration and learned that God’s faithfulness endures no matter where we are, whom we are with or who is missing.

The holiday season is a happy and sad time at the Duckett home. We are happy because God has been so good, given us so much and been faithful to us in ways we cannot fully describe. We are sad because in spite of what we do have, what we don’t have is the large family gathering of the past. To follow the Lord we have made sacrifices and endured separations. We would do it again, but to follow Him costs something. The cost is small when we filter it through the eyes of eternity. I believe whatever sacrifice we make or separation we endure for Christ will be richly rewarded on earth and in Heaven, but while on earth we will always feel the scar of the cost.

Thanksgiving as an Adoptive Parent

Thanksgiving changed again in 2015. In fact, Cherry and I were not even in the country. We were in Colombia. We had gone there to bring home two brothers we were in the process of adopting. We desperately tried to jump through all the necessary hoops to have them home for Thanksgiving. It just was not meant to be.

On that day we ate our Thanksgiving meal at a food court at a mall in Bogotá with our adoptive sons. As happy as we were, the moment was awkward. Neither one of them could speak English, turkey and stuffing was on no menu and our biological sons, who we missed terribly, were back in the States waiting for us to all return. To make the moment even more awkward, Colombia does not observe Thanksgiving. No one knew what Cherry and I were celebrating, and no one would understand us if we tried to explain it. It truly was a wonderful, awkward day.

Much has changed in two years. The boys are speaking English now (sometimes too much) and they are growing in their understanding of the holiday. They have discovered what green bean casserole and pecan pie is, but they don’t care for either of them. Some things have not changed; we are still experiencing some awkward family moments. One thing no one tells you when you adopt is that your family will never again be what it was. That one fact is both wonderful and sad at the same time. I can’t explain it. I just know that’s how it is. I do know I am thankful for my family. I love them all; the ones I’m with and the ones that are miles away. As the years unfold Thanksgiving will continue to change. I accept this and I look forward to it because my God, like a master chef, knows how to mix the ingredients of life to make something wonderful and tasty.

Greatest Possession

What is your greatest possession? Take your time. Think a little bit about this before rushing to the next paragraph. I would guess your answer is probably influenced by the season of life you are going through. For instance, a child might say their greatest possession is a $5 toy. A teenager might grab their smart phone. For a young adult, it might be their car. A family man might say it is his paycheck. A person recovering from cancer might be more philosophical and say it is their health. A happily married person might claim it is their relationship and the person approaching retirement is certain it is their 401(k). It’s funny how things gain and lose value as we journey through life.

What if there was something we could possess that never lost its value or its usefulness? A possession that remained important and relevant through every season of life. I think I have discovered this item. I think it may be my greatest possession. It’s odd, but I have not always thought so highly of this item. At times I have ignored it, even abhorred it. On some days I have seen it as a distraction I wished would go away and at other times I have found it to be exactly what I needed. There have been times I’ve used this item thinking, “It is outdated, not relevant, not helpful.” And yet, because I keep going back to it, I have had some defining moments with it. It has given me inspiration, guidance and even hope. Honestly, I have experienced both love and estrangement with this item. It is the Bible.

Before you tune me out, please give me a chance to explain. I’ve always felt the Bible contains important information, but just because something is important doesn’t mean it will be useful in everyday life. I at times have viewed the information in the Bible like I viewed the Pythagorean Theorem. It was useful. I needed it to graduate from high school (so did you…even if you don’t remember what it is), but really? How often do I use the Pythagorean Theorem? How relevant is that bit of mathematical information to me today in this season of life?

As I continue to make my way through life, I am discovering the words in the Bible is not like other information. Other information may be useful for a season, but it loses its relevance as time passes. What is it about the Bible that makes it useful and relevant for every season of life?

It speaks only truth.

As the world continues its moral slide, God’s Word just keeps speaking truth. Society values what is commonly known as relative truth (meaning truth changes to adapt to a situation). However, the Bible speaks absolute truth. It is constant and can be applied to whatever situation we find ourselves experiencing.

Speaking truth makes the Bible both precious and disdained at the same time. It is precious because truth is rare in our world. What organization or person do you know that only speaks truth? Congress? The media? Educational systems? Neighbors? Spouses? Children? Heck, we even lie to ourselves. Hopefully the people closest to you lie the least to you, but God’s Word never lies. It only speaks truth and that is precious when everyone else has the capacity to speak lies. Unfortunately, the Bible is disdained for the same reason it is precious. Because it only speaks truth, it can be abrasive. It will not speak what we want to hear even if all of humanity claims its information is wrong or backwards or exclusive. For this reason, people claim the Bible is no longer relevant. Or, they twist it’s words to make them more palatable. Often people have reduced the Scriptures to an archaic suggestion that less intelligent people hold as truth.

The Bible is a “faith” book more than a “logic” book. Because of this, its truth will not always seem or feel normal. Our human nature will push back. If we don’t use faith when reading the Bible we will never accept that it only speaks truth. One of the greatest dangers people make with God’s Word is to treat it like one of those huge buffet restaurants. At a buffet we choose the food we think or know will taste good. We leave behind what we think or know tastes bad. The Bible cannot be treated this way. It is an all or nothing acceptance. If we treat it like a buffet then we are assuming we have the wisdom to know what is true and what is not. Obviously, that is above humanity’s pay grade. Truth can leave a bad taste in our mouth (especially if someone is misusing it for personal gain), but just because something tastes bad doesn’t mean it’s not good for us.

I don’t know what you think of the Bible, but I can tell you it helps me weekly and sometimes even daily. It helps me be a better husband, father and leader. It has become my most valuable possession. If you approach it with faith and humility (like letting someone give you something from the buffet you wouldn’t choose) and trust that it only speaks truth, it may become your greatest possession too.

God has breathed life into all of Scripture. It is useful for teaching us what is true. It is useful for correcting our mistakes. It is useful for making our lives whole again. It is useful for training us to do what is right. – 2 Timothy 3:16

Half-Baked People

“I love Pastor Stephen!” Those were the first words I heard when I got in the car with my son. We had just finished helping Stephen and his family move into their new home. You know how it is…moving is not the most fun thing in the world to do. It had been a long day. We started packing (and then unpacking) the truck at 4pm. It was now a little after 9. I thought my son might be a little grumpy. He had spent his afternoon and most of the evening lifting and pushing and carrying; but that was not the case.

With a rapid fire of words he began to explain this outburst about Stephen. “He is easy to talk to…he is funny…he listens to me…he is just a good guy to be around.” I can’t tell you how much I appreciated what my son was saying. I am thrilled that Pastor Stephen is having a positive influence in his life.

As I listened to him, I was reminded of the relationships I had when I was a teenager at church. I am fortunate. My mind is filled with positive memories from that part of my past. During my teenage years the church I attended had two different youth pastors; and while I had a positive relationship with both men, it was the relationships I developed with other adults and peers that impacted me the most. While growing into a young man it was the adult leaders (Bible study leaders, chaperones and my friend’s parents) and my peers at church that taught me and challenged me to hear and follow God’s voice. I had coaches. I had teachers. I had other adults that taught me many important life skills, but it was only at church that I was challenged to be a Godly person.

It saddens me to think how many teens today do not have the exposure to God’s people I had while growing up. I realize the times are different. I understand that social surveys and cultural shifts all point to people (including teenagers) spending less time at church. I know there are many successful and educated individuals that are challenging the next generation to be kind, good and responsible citizens. Boatloads of resources are available to prepare teenagers for a career. Teachers, counselors, mentors and coaches stand ready to share the wisdom needed for a stable life. Millions of dollars are being used to develop educational tools, social awareness curriculums and community programs to help the next generation be better people. But, I have one question: Who is challenging them to love, follow and share Jesus?

One reason I want my boys to be exposed to the influences of a church is because of the people they will meet and the friendships they will develop. The activities at a church teach us things about the bible and God, but that knowledge is left wanting without the influence of the people who are there putting into practice what is being taught. My boys need the voices of men, women and peers who are actively trying to pursue God (honestly, I need those voices to). It brings clarity to all the other voices they are hearing.

When I was growing up the forces of culture and my own selfish nature constantly pulled at me. They were vying to shape my worldview and establish my values. The pursuit of integrity, the value of human life, my self-worth, the importance of hard work, my respect for others, and my stance on drugs, sexuality and social justice where all being formed. Only at church, among imperfect people, was I being challenged to view the world as God sees it. I think the same holds true for my boys today.

Many people will challenge what I am saying with the horror stories of people at church behaving badly. It’s true. The church has had and will continue to have a handful of people in it who are bad, wrong, mean and maybe even evil. I wish this were not true, but I can tell you those individuals are the exception and not the norm. Parents who hold flawed individuals up as their reason for not involving their families in a local church have missed the point of the Church. The purpose of the Church (this includes all people who follow Jesus in various local churches) is not to create perfect individuals. The Church exists to help people pursue, love and follow God in a world that does whatever is right in its own eyes. A few people in our local churches will miss this mark badly, but that does not mean the Church is a waste of time or lost its relevance. It just means the Church is imperfect people learning how to pursue a loving God who transforms us as we pursue Him. No one would call a half-baked cake horrible. Instead, they would point out that it is only half-baked and needs to finish baking before it can be properly judged. People who are pursuing Jesus in the local church are all half-baked individuals. God is not through with them yet. Don’t judge them too quickly.

My heart was encouraged when my son told me a Godly man (not a perfect man) is having a positive influence in his life. It is one of the reasons I encourage all of my boys to go to church. I want my sons to have people in their lives who love the Lord. People who will help them pursue a Godly life.

Identity Theft

It is hard to have your identity stolen if you don’t know who you are. Obviously, I’m not talking about credit card or social security numbers. A real threat in our society is the criminal act of identity theft, but one of the greatest losses in life is to never have known who you were in the first place.

What is identity? Where does it come from? How do we find it? These are all excellent questions. It is commonly thought that our identity is tied to our government ID, our careers, the titles we hold or the accomplishments we have achieved. Many attempt to create their identity through what they do (their career, parenting, or some cause they passionately support). Others seek to discover who they are by pointing to major events in life (a parent’s death, a divorce, a change in career, etc.)  or researching their ethnic background (hence the popularity with ancestry.com). I propose that a person’s identity is not tied to what they do, what happened to them or their ancestry. All of those things are important, but they only explain a person. They do not define a person. A person’s identity defines who they are to themselves and to the people around them.

Identity can only be found by accepting we are created beings created for a purpose. Therefore, to find our identity we must speak with our Creator. Fortunately, this is possible. I don’t mean to sound mystical or hokey, but God is approachable and He likes to communicate with His creation. He said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8) The best way to start asking, seeking and knocking is to start talking to God, start looking for Him in life and start trying a spiritual activity like going to church or reading the Bible. It is important to remember that when we search for God He is not hiding from us. He is hiding for us.

Once we start communicating with our Creator, the obvious question to ask is, “Why did you create me?” Guess what? He will answer that question. He will show each one who asks why He created them, why He made them they way He did and why He has them in their particular set of circumstances. None of the details of our lives are random. They each have a purpose and they all speak to who we are…our identity. The relationship we have with our Creator begins to reveal our identity to us.

I wish I could tell you that I had all of this figured out, but the truth is that our understanding of our identity morphs as we grow in our understanding of our Creator. I can tell you this…our identity is more about who we are (character) that what we do (activity). Also, our identity is tied closely to what He did for us through Jesus Christ than any other thing our planet has to offer.

I truly hope you never have to go through the headache of identity theft. Be vigilant with all those important numbers. But more importantly, discover who you really are. Don’t let your identity remain a mystery.

 

Should I Follow My Passions?

I saw someone the other day win an achievement award. In their acceptance speech they said words that have become sort of a mantra: “Follow your passion at all cost. Don’t give up. Don’t let someone tell you that you can’t do something.” I can appreciate the spirit of his words. I certainly appreciate his success at his craft. But I have to be honest; I think the advice to “follow your passion at all cost” may be the worst advice floating around.

Passion has two definitions. It can be a “strong and barely controllable emotion” or an “intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction.” I think the man who won the award was speaking of this second definition. And, although I understand the sentiment of his statement, I think passion by itself can be a horrible guide for life choices. Here are 3 reasons why passion can lead us down the wrong path.

1) Following passion could be a colossal waste of time.

Did you ever watch American Idol? Many times the show would introduce a contestant with a short video. The video would communicate the person’s passion to sing; then their audition with the judges would take place. It was not uncommon to discover the individual had no talent and no tone. Their shock and disappointment when the judges told them they would not be moving on in the competition revealed their passion was more dream than skill. Years (and I think for some of them only weeks) had been wasted. Their passion to be a great singer was dealt a blow of reality.

Just because we have a passion doesn’t mean we have a talent. Some poor soul hears “follow your passion” and they begin to think passion is all that is needed to succeed. Unfortunately, it can take months or years for someone to discover their passion is pipe dream. Passion can point us in the wrong direction and that can be waste of time.

2) Passion can bring success, but it rarely develops character.

It is possible to be passionate and successful. However, many people become so passionate about being successful at their craft that they are willing to overlook the development of their character. Passion may drive a person to succeed, but it rarely drives someone to be humble. Unfortunately, proud people usually have major character flaws. The current revelations of sexual harassment and misconduct among Hollywood’s elite, along with the long list of dishonest CEO’s and politicians, provide many examples of successful, wealthy people with passion but no character. When success at our passion means we have to step on the less fortunate, take advantage of a vulnerable person, or be dishonest to reach our goal, then our passion becomes our demise. We trade character for success.

3) Following a  passion can be a distraction from real opportunities.

When I was in high school my passion was being a football player…all 140-pounds of me. I dreamed of playing football. I spent hours each week lifting weights, running, going to practice and watching film. I just knew that “growth spurt” was coming, and when it did, I would play football in the college ranks. Only one problem, the growth spurt never happened. I do think I was the best 140-pound football player at my high school, but that is as far as my passion could take me.

All that time I spent on football, and it was over when I graduated from high school. I often think: What opportunities did I miss while I was chasing my passion? How much better could I be at what I do today if I had started pursuing then the skills I use now? My passion distracted me from opportunities that might have been more beneficial.

If we can’t follow passion, then what options do we have? Are we doomed to a life that is characterized as ordinary? Are we forced into a career of mundane routine? To answer these questions let me share two promises God has given to people who love the truth of Jesus Christ.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

Reflect on these promises and notice two things:

1) God has a plan for your life.

One of the greatest fears we have is that we will not like God’s plan. We fear God will ask us to do something we will hate. Yet, He makes it clear that if we seek Him, pray to Him, let our first passion be Him…then He will show us His plan and we will experience fulfillment, hope and a good future. We don’t ignore our passion when we seek God. We bring it with us and let Him direct it to the plan He already has in place.

2) God has already prepared works for you to do.

Don’t follow passion. Follow opportunity. If God has already prepared works for us to do then we don’t have to beat ourselves up trying to make our passions a reality. All we have to do is walk through the doors of opportunity He has already placed on our path. Through those doors we will find our passion.

Healthy Husband Habits

I’ve been married for 23 years. I am not a perfect husband. Truthfully, I would not even call myself a great husband. Almost every week I read about, hear of or see a man do a wonderful thing for his wife and think, “Gee, I wish I had thought of that!” Even though I might think I’m the best husband around, I do think I have learned some good husband habits. I have much more to learn, but hopefully some of this might be useful to you.

1) Learn your love language…and use it.

Several years ago Dr. Gary Chapman wrote The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to the Love that Lasts. I encourage all husbands to read the book (or watch the videos) to discover their love language and the love language of their wife. I know it sounds mushy and emotional, but it is a good read. There is even a quick online quiz available to help get someone started. The information contained in the book, if put into practice, will change the way you give and receive love. Ultimately, it will help your marriage be more fun.

2) Go to bed when your wife goes to bed.

At first glance this may seem silly. You might think, “What difference does it make when I go to bed?” Honestly, it makes a big difference. If a husband falls into the practice of staying up late while his wife slips into bed, he runs the risk of two things.

a) A bored man late at night will encounter the temptation to watch TV shows, movies or websites that he simply would not watch if his wife were in the room with him. I am not saying that every time a husband stays up late by himself that his goal is to watch porn. I am simply warning that if it becomes a regular habit, the temptation will be greatly enhanced. How do I know this? Well…I am a man. Plus, I’ve had countless couples sit in my office and walk through the pain and shame porn has brought to their marriage. Almost 100% of the time, the husband watches porn while the wife is asleep.

b) Going to bed with your wife can be ho-hum or WOW! The problem is we don’t always know which one it will be. The Bible calls marriage a mystery…and that is putting it nicely. I get that most nights may be routine, but not all wow moments have to be sexual. Lying in bed with your wife at the end of a long day is a unifying moment. It is the two of you…together. It may be the first uninterrupted conversation you’ve had all day. The two of you may talk or you may simply listen to each other fall asleep, but either way you are together. The two of you may solve a problem or choose to sleep on options, but either way you are together. You may have a warm moment of holding each other and chuckling about silly things or you may keep to your sides of the bed, but either way you are together. If the husband habitually stays up late while the wife goes to bed, all of those unifying moments are lost.

3) Do some household chores.

Every couple has to decide who is going to do what for the household to work. My wife has worked out of the home for most of our marriage. Therefore, I have learned that I just need to “own” a few chores. To own it means I do not have to be asked to do it. For brownie points, choose a chore that uniquely helps her.

Let me give you an example. My wife has always prepared the food in our house. Up until a few months ago, she has also always gone to the grocery store. She never really enjoyed this activity, but since she was preparing the food I assumed it was best for her to go buy it. One day she was complaining to me about another trip to the store…something about rude people, heavy bags and not enough time. All of a sudden it dawned on me, I could go to the grocery store. I asked her if she would like for me to do the shopping. She ERUPTED with joy…like a kid getting their number one wish on Christmas morning! Honestly, I felt a little embarrassed that I had not offered this earlier. I now own this chore. Each week I head off to store armed with the list she has made. (HINT: I would strongly encourage owning more than one chore.)

4) Say “Yes” or find “Yes” at all costs.

I have to say no to people frequently. I don’t like doing it, but because of my position I simply cannot agree to every request or idea that comes my way. However, when it comes to my wife I want to say yes as often as I can. Don’t misunderstand me. My wife does not need my blessing to be herself, but one of the challenges of marriage is coming to grips with the fact that the husband and wife are no longer separate individuals. The Bible teaches when a man and woman marry they become one. They share life physically, emotionally and spiritually…as one (remember, marriage is a mystery).

When she approaches me with her ideas, dreams, plans or requests; she is not seeking my permission. She is seeking oneness. Out of her desire to be one with me, she comes to me. And, out of my desire to be one with her, I go to her with my thoughts. But when she comes to me, my goal is to agree as often as I can. When I (or she) says no it means we have to work through it until we find yes. As the husband I must always be willing to do this work. No matter how difficult or unpleasant it might be, I must find the place of yes. If I just reject her thoughts, and then don’t work with her to find the place we can both say yes, I am pulling at the seams what God put together. I have discovered that saying yes to my wife comes more easily when I say no to myself. It is called sacrificial love and Jesus is the One who teaches husbands how to do this. I’m still learning.

 

Faith, Family & Sports

When I was kid, organized youth leagues were intended to be an activity that exposed young children to the world of sports. The intent was to teach kids the rules of a sport, learn basic skills, be part of a team, practice sportsmanship and maybe discover something a kid could enjoy playing. When my oldest reached the age of playing sports, I quickly discovered the environment had changed. For the last 10 years all of my boys have been engaged in playing sports. Organized sports, and everything that goes with it, will continue to be a part of our family routine for at least the next 7 years. I have seen first hand (and continue to see) that youth sports programs and high school sports can create challenges that frustrate the family instead of help it.

Don’t misunderstand me, team and individual sports has the potential to teach children, teens and adults many valuable life lessons; but I believe the potential is rarely utilized. I could give you a laundry list of reasons why, but that would make this blog a bit of a downer. I could also attempt to encourage parents to avoid these challenges and just keep their kids at home, but I think that approach is unrealistic and not helpful. Youth and high school sports (along with other extra-curricular activities) are valuable, but we need to be realistic about their limitations and the unhealthy distractions they can create. Instead of shouting how bad things are, let me try to share with you how Cherry and I have navigated the harmful side of sports.

1) Use sports to teach your kids how to live for God.

Life on a sports team is not fair. There are always going to be players who get special treatment, more playing time and all the accolades. Likewise, there will be players who seem to be expendable, overlooked and undervalued. When parents see this happen, it feels ugly…especially if it is your kid being ignored. When this happens parents have a unique choice, they can begin to complain about coaches (which creates entitlement issues), pressure their kid to do better (which makes the child feel like a disappointment) or encourage their young athlete to do their best and enjoy the experience (which teaches the valuable lesson of being accepted for who they are and not what they can do). As a parent I’ve done all three and I can tell you the first two options never end well.

With four boys playing sports, my family has seen different levels of success on the field. I have had the blessing of seeing my boys be the star and riding the bench. I noticed when they were succeeding; I was happy and giving a high-five. When they played little or not at all, I would leave the game full of angst complaining about coaches or negatively pressuring my son to do better. When those conversations ended, no one was happy.

I don’t remember when it happened exactly, but somewhere along the way God began to give me a different perspective. It came full circle one day after one of my boys didn’t get to play much in a game. As he approached me I could see the worry in his eyes…Is dad going to complain or get on to me? I could tell he was disappointed. He didn’t need the same old response from me. In that moment God gave me some new words and by His grace I used them. I looked at him and said, “I am proud of you. I want you to do two things when playing this sport. First, please God with your attitude and actions. Second, do what you need to do to help your team succeed.” A weight was lifted, the air cleared and we both began to enjoy the moment and each other.

If we can use sports to teach our kids to live for God and help others succeed, then the potential for sports to teach valuable life lessons is being reached. I realize how backward this sounds, but that is the point. The dangerous side of organized sports is striving to be the best for the sake of being recognized and rewarded…to stroke the ego. The good side of sports is found when we remember to play for something bigger than ourselves. Life works the same way.

2) Don’t continuously sacrifice church activities for sports.

The demands of youth sports have changed. When I played, coaches created practice and game schedules that were church friendly. That day is over and it is not coming back. Parents who are committed to passing their faith on to their children must learn to adapt.

When church activities conflict with sports, the trend is to skip the church activity. Faithful families often make this choice and I understand the reasons why (team commitment, punishment from coaches, money poured into the sport, etc.). With four boys playing sports, this has been and will be an ongoing challenge (and I pastor a church). The problem with letting sports regularly (or seasonally) take priority over church activities is that we are inadvertently teaching our kids that faith is a hobby and the sport is the priority. They begin to see and accept that practicing faith at church with others is what we do when there is nothing else going on. We set them up to minimize or walk away from the faith.

The solution to facing this challenge is to sometimes say no to the sport. Or, work harder as a parent to get our kids to church activities. I realize both of these options are painful. Saying no to the sport may mean missing a practice, a game, or maybe even a tournament for the sake of serving or worshipping God. Working harder means parents spend the extra energy, time and money needed to make sure their child attends that service project, bible study or weekend retreat when the calendar is already full. Trust me, I understand the pain of these sacrifices. But when we do it, when we prioritize the importance of practicing our faith; it teaches our kids that life is never too busy to worship God. Also, for God to be first in our lives we have to sacrifice something for Him to get there (and remain there). The sacrifice will always sting and cost something. Kids do not naturally know how to make a sacrifice for the Lord; parents have to teach them.

Here is one goal Cherry and I have strived to follow: we seek to have the whole family together at one church event at least once a week. Only a few times in a decade have we not been able to do this. And surprisingly, only a handful of times have we had to sacrifice a sporting event to practice our faith together.

3) The value of sports has limitations.

According to CBS News, only about 2% of all high school athletes will receive a full-ride athletic scholarship. Yet, if you talk to parents at the ballpark, football field or soccer game, one could walk away thinking 98% of the players are on their way to a free college education. Parents are talking about the latest greatest sports camp and the personal trainer that “has never seen an 8 year old with so much ability.” Instead of the sport being an opportunity to play, it becomes an expensive lottery ticket or early college education payment plan. When something is given that much priority, pressure is placed on performance and the joy of getting to play, be on a team and enjoy neighbors is lost in the shuffle. Truthfully, 98% of all high school athletes pay for college some other way.

Imagine a kid being told for a decade they have talent and “a good shot” at a scholarship only to discover when they graduate that no college came calling. Now what are they suppose to do? They followed their passion and all they have to show for it are participation trophies. For a decade they have chased a sport and missed other opportunities that might have helped them to discover their real talents. They enter college or the work force not really having any direction. Here is the point: a sport, by itself, cannot help a teen discover their purpose. Purpose is discovered through talking to the Creator and spending time with people who know the Creator. Many times opportunities to discover purpose are lost because the sport became the god. All sport gods make promises they can’t deliver. Kids are often not mature enough to see this, but parents should know better.

Cherry and I want our boys to have the opportunity play sports; but ultimately, we want them to know God, hear His voice and follow His plan for their lives. Our job is to point them towards that goal no matter what activities they pursue. We are not perfect at doing this, but we are intentional about reaching that goal.

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