“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”1 Corinthians 9:25
Millenials, perhaps, have become an all too ready target for teasing. In an address to mostly baby-boomers, the Michigan Church Extension Fund VP of Marketing & Relations freely admitted that his generation –(Andy’s a millenial)– really did grow up receiving those much joked about “Participation Awards.” Yet, while everyone was laughing, he was quick to point out that it was the parents, the baby-boomers, who were guilty of handing them out.
I, for one, am glad that we can – at least over time – still look back and laugh at the folly of our good intentions. It is a healthy and humble practice, and it helps us to shed light on the things that we miss, the matters that are most important. In the case of handing out trophies for simply showing up, the idea of encouraging young people certainly was a good intention, but the unintended consequence was the crippling of real accomplishment, stealing the spirit of endurance from the natural desire to achieve. Our children, however, were sufficiently protected from trying harder.
In the spirit of shedding light on the matters that are most important, maybe we could ask the question on whether participation trophies also reveal the inherent unimportance of all human achievements, or as wise King Solomon might have queried, “Vanity of vanities, is everything worthless?” (cf. Ecclesiastes 1:2).
In the refrain of an honored gospel hymn, the faithful sing, “So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, Till my trophies at last I lay down. I will cling to the old rugged cross, And exchange it some day for a crown.” The lyrics speak to an ancient Christian attitude born of a recognition that everything we now consider to be special is, in truth, not lasting. As the Apostle Paul acutely explained, “I consider everything in life to be a loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. Indeed, I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” (Philippians 3:8f).
In these last weeks we have been addressing what it means to have the mindset of Jesus, aspiring to live the newness of the life that is found only in being wholly his. In order to round out that divinely inspired attitude, it is appropriate and necessary to understand that all of the things we collect, earn, gather, or otherwise hold in high esteem – ALL of it – is nothing! This includes houses, properties, cabins, lakes, mounts, toys, tools of our hobbies, athletics, vacations, degrees, recognitions, titles, trucks, cars, trailers and – yes! – trophies. They simply represent life’s greatest Participation Awards. In the end, if we truly believe our place is in the Kingdom of Heaven, then we must concede that everything is garbage, and unworthy of our fixation, when we consider how Jesus has called us to, “Come!” follow him.
This also may lend a deeper meaning to what it means – in this season especially – to be thankful. If we are truly grateful to God, we may thank him not only for the perishable things that sustain and bless our earthly lives but, more importantly, we may begin a new commitment to practice the habits that keep us in the “strict training,” to put our attention to gaining the Crown (or trophy) of Life “that will last forever.”