This summer, our boys discovered something we’ve long known: they are gifted differently. Specifically, our firstborn lacks the natural athleticism of his little brother. As much as we try to help them celebrate each other’s gifts and focus on doing their best rather than being the best, it’s become painful for my oldest to watch his little brother excel in baseball while he strikes out again and again. The gap in athletic ability drives him to self-pity and envy.
It’s hard for him, and it breaks this mama’s heart.
My reflex is to remind him of other ways he’s gifted and to point out all the ways he’s persevered and improved in sports. I explain his brother’s success does not make him unsuccessful. We love him and are so proud of him no matter what.
But while these things are true, they leave both of my sons on shifting sand, putting too much stock in their strengths or weaknesses—be it in sports, school, music, or even character. My husband has led us well to remind our boys the core issue is not giftedness, but identity, and their identities are not in their accomplishments or shortcomings, but in the cross of Calvary.
At just six and eight, our sons are already recognizing that the peaks and valleys of all athletic/artistic/academic endeavors make for a sandy foundation. Of course, we celebrate when our children do well and empathize when they struggle, but we have something greater to give them. We can help them build their house on the rock of being beloved, chosen children of the King (Luke 6:46-49, 1 Pet, 2:9). We must remind them they are fearfully and wonderfully made in his image (Gen. 1:27, Ps. 139:14). That there is nothing they can do to add or take away from what Jesus has done on the cross (Eph. 2:8, Rom. 8:37-39)!
My husband and I pray each of our boys will learn to trust the firm foundation of Jesus, allowing them freedom to encourage and celebrate each other, knowing that the other’s success will not threaten his own sense of worth (Gal. 5:1, Rom. 12:15). With their house on the rock, Christ will enable them to stand firm regardless of the fierce winds of failure or success, strikeouts or homeruns (Phil. 1:27-28).
And like most things in parenting, the Lord has been instructing my heart in the same way. Just as my heart grieves when my sons tear each other down, so it grieves the Father’s heart when I fall into the comparison trap. Just like my sons are prone to find their identity in how they perform, so am I—both in their performance and mine as a mother. I must continually run to the Lord to remind me of who I am and whose I am, not only to help my children do the same, but also to encourage and celebrate my sisters in this mutual journey of pointing image-bearers to Christ. In the words of a Getty hymn, “Two wonders here that I confess: my worth and my unworthiness. My value fixed, my ransom paid at the cross.”