I played a lot of sports as a kid. I was a perennial all-star in both basketball and baseball up until high school. I had a shelf full of trophies displaying all of my accomplishments. A trophy I never had on my shelf was a participation trophy. No thank you.
It occurs to me that there may never have been a generation before ours with such an ingrained sense of entitlement. Rather than bumper stickers touting the fact that your student made the honor roll, I see ones that say “My child won the monthly attendance award”. Well, color me impressed.
I’m not an advocate of making anyone feel entitled but we have a tendency to over-correct. The reason the idea of participation trophies even came about was to correct our society’s glorification of winners. The mentality is that if you win, you’re valuable but if you lose, you’re a loser. Yet another label I despise.
Maybe they got something right with the concept of a participation trophy and it was just executed poorly.
Our Need For Validation
We all long for validation. We all long to be seen. We can never be satisfied by hiding our efforts. We long for recognition. It’s built into our nature and it’s perfectly normal.
Validation gives us confidence and encourages our direction. It’s an acknowledgement that you’re doing the right thing. Especially when we’re on a new mission, adventure or path. It nudges us out of insecurity.
But not everyone is an all-star. Not everyone will be valedictorian. Not everyone will be a world-reknowned for their talents. So where does that leave the rest of us?
Jesus Received Validation
We know that Jesus lived a perfect life. But up to the point where He began His ministry, not much is said about what He was doing. He was likely an average boy doing average boy things (you went to church and schooled the elders about theology, didn’t you?). Seriously though, what most people refer to are the miracles He did after He was baptized.
The thing is that before Jesus ever did one miracle, He received validation:
“You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:11
Even Jesus needed validation. What’s different in His case was that He got His recognition before He really did anything substantial. He essentially got His participation trophy, not for His merits but for the fact that He was loved.
The most life-changing validation is love, not accolades.
Earning Your Blessings
I’m not saying that your effort is obsolete. Just because we can all receive love without lifting a finger, it doesn’t mean that it ends there. There are definitely blessings attached to accomplishments.
When blessings are talked about in the Bible, they aren’t always given to everyone. Many times there are stipulations attached. Not everyone can just mosey up the hill of the Lord. Only the one with clean hands and a pure heart can do that. Only they will receive that blessing from the Lord (Psalm 24:3-5).
Pleasure Precedes Merit
When we are affirmed before we make an effort, it gives us the confidence to succeed but also the confidence to fail. We are validated regardless of our performance so we don’t base our worth on our effort. If Jesus was a complete failure, He knew that God was already pleased. Not just pleased, well pleased.
With the understanding that He was loved unconditionally, Jesus was able to begin His ministry with confidence. He was validated before He began. Failure wasn’t something He needed to fear.
God does not glorify a meritocracy in His kingdom. He made it clear that we couldn’t live up to His standard. Once we understand that, it makes our striving mentality look foolish.
So maybe there is something to receiving a participation award. Not so we can feel entitled, but validated. The best validation comes from love. Sure we can earn other trophies by what we do in faith but in His kingdom, there are no losers.