Kristie Sharp Williams
Reward vs. Award
Updated: May 28, 2018
I zone out sometimes, easily distracted. I don't mind admitting it. I would never be able to fake otherwise, so owning it is really all I can do. My brain is often gummed up with mostly nonsense, obsessing over or exaggerating details. But, sometimes, something worthwhile will catch my eye, or ear in this case. Sure, some could say this is an example of the very distractive nature to which I just referred, but I would argue that I was actually paying attention to have caught it in the first place.
What I heard this weekend led me to a question that I had never really thought of: "Exactly, why am I agreeable to my kids winning a trophy for studying the Bible?"
I Spy Eli
We are home from what I believe is our 7th Lads To Leaders convention if I counted correctly. I know! I can not believe it has been that many years. Eli was diagnosed in December 2011. We had already signed-up for our first convention, which would be in April 2012, when we received the diagnosis. The weekend then happened to fall during his break between radiation and the start of chemo. So, that would have been our first year, and I guess that's also why, in my mind, the weekend is so closely tied to him. He loved being a part of it and loved that we were together during that time because, in the coming years, we would often be separated. And, if you followed his journey, you know that we were always getting whisked away during that weekend for some kind of procedure, or some kind of appointment. So, traditionally, it has been a stressful weekend, not just from the event itself, but also from juggling Eli's health needs.
Nevertheless, the weekend is one of our favorite family times, and there was a painful void this year. I so clearly remember Eli leading the song "This World is Not My Home" at the 2014 convention after learning the past December that he was terminal. One of my few public episodes of loose emotions broke out, although I was quiet. A little boy from the back of the room, like a knight in tiny sweater vest and bow tie, rescued me with a tissue - which almost made it worse, he was so stinkin' cute!
We played a game one year called "I Spy Eli" where people that followed his journey took a picture with him to post. You can imagine how much he loved that. His "Roof Tree" speech was originally written for "Lads." That small, frail voice of his speaking powerful words created such a stirring inside so many of us. I think it was then that I consciously surrendered to God's plan for him, realizing that he was an individual in his own right, not put on earth to just be my son. That is a painful perspective to realize for a mom. My own purpose taking a bit of a beating with that enlightenment.
When I think about Eli's individual purpose, I remember the exchange between God and Jeremiah as the Old Testament prophet records in chapter 1 verses 4-8:
"Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.'
Then I said, 'Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.”
But the Lord said to me, 'Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.'”
My Eli was, of course, no prophet, but still, this record provides an example God's forethought in the purposeful design of each of us as individuals. What a happy reunion between Creator and creation that must have been when Eli met his Maker and heard the words "Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your Master!" as shown in the teachings of Jesus recorded by the apostle Matthew in chapter 25:23. In his new body, cradled in the comfort of his Maker’s hands, eternally protected from the evil that held him half of his earthly life, listening to tale of the purpose of his existence. The angels were surely eavesdropping.
Thankfully, this year at Lads, I was able to control my thoughts - at least while I was awake - and stay away from any corners in my mind that might cause me to jeopardize participating in events with the kids, or volunteering for duties. We were busy getting to events, studying and preparing for events, so I was distracted. But, Eli was always on my mind, especially while taking our traditional Easter weekend pictures at the beautiful Opryland Hotel venue. And, it was especially nice to hear that others remembered him, too. There is no greater gift you can give a mother who has lost a child, no matter how long ago it was than to let her know you remember something about him or her. I am always so thankful for friends that loved him, too.
A Wrinkle in a Rankle
Lads to Leaders is a non-profit organization designed to develop youth into Christian leaders, according to its website. I love the slogan "You don't have to teach them to be leaders in the church. Their L2L experience makes them WANT to be." That is so perfect, and true. The result of the program is kids that desire to know God, that hunger for Truth, and who WANT to be workers in the church! I've never had any dedicated Lads parents who went through ahead of us say they regretted participating, or that participation did anything but help to grow a confidence in their child for the Lord's work.
The event, however, can rankle some who, for the most part, have never tried to learn about it or know what really happens for it and at it. A lot of uninformed opinions and assumptions are made.
One popular contention is the award format. Going back to the question that led me to this post: "Why am I agreeable to my kids winning an award for studying the Bible?" When we started in Lads, I never really consciously thought one way or the other on it because the awards were just sort of extra, fun window-dressing. It's not what drove us to participate (and still isn't). We wanted our kids to have a structured pursuit of Christian skills that complemented the Christian values we strove to instill at home. Our elders have the foresightful understanding to allow the congregation access to participate as a ministry to and training for our youth. It was a perfect fit.
So, after some careful thought to the question I posed to myself, I realized that I am agreeable because they are not getting an award for studying the Bible. They are getting an award for working hard and performing above average at a skill they learned. The award has nothing to do with the subject, which happens to be Bible studies. It's no different than earning a trophy for baseball. The player doesn't get a trophy for playing baseball; he gets a trophy for working hard at baseball, excelling at baseball, or at least for doing better in baseball than when he started practicing and playing. And, before you even go there, I am not comparing baseball to the Bible. You have missed the point entirely if you think that.
The speaker at the closing ceremony said it something like "Reward verses Award." The trophy is the "award" for the effort, while the practicing, the learning, the skill, the knowledge gained is the reward - whether it be baseball or Bible studies.
Out of Left-field
The Athens Dixie Youth Girls Softball league began sometime around 1976, give or take. Most importantly, it was established by 1978 when I was old enough to join. I played left-field for the Angels during the rookie season of my 24-year career. I lived and breathed ball. It didn't matter if I had anyone to throw with me or not, I just used the top of the house to roll myself a pop-fly, or I turned the trampoline on end and threw the ball at the black bed to bounce it back. If I wanted to practice hitting, I pitched to myself - sometimes, I even struck myself out. The point is, I worked at it any chance I got because I loved it. The love of the sport motivated me to work at it, drove me to do better, and to get better. For the following quarter-of-a-century that I played competitively, I missed out on many, many trophies. But, not winning a trophy did not cause me to love the game less, nor did it keep me from working hard at it because I developed a love for it by playing it.
In studying this thought, I came across 1 Timothy 4:8: "For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come."
Playing a sport, working hard at it, excelling at it, learning from it is all great. But how much better to achieve those same goals while studying the Bible because of the implications to our lives here and our eternal lives. The reward of preparing for Lads is of "value in every way" and is eternal. The award is just a shiny piece of plastic for a shelf. And, if it does take a shiny piece of plastic to motivate a young kid to study the Bible more, to hone a leadership skill that the church will one day need, or to focus a talent on a biblical subject instead of something superficial, then what is the harm? The knowledge they gain through their efforts will mature their reasoning as they grow. The award will become less important to them than the reward because of the study they have been doing (because they've been playing it). And, it could be, parents, that we have to actually take on a little bit of responsibility and teach our kids the difference between Award and Reward so that they get it.
Are we having fun yet?
Yes, you are going to see some excited kids (and parents) about these trophies. And, it's merely because they have worked hard, often studying when friends are getting together; dragging extra books on vacations to spend time in study; missing out on school events or activities because of preparation or practice. As a parent, and Lads volunteer, I am just as excited when they win a trophy. I have witnessed the hard work. I've seen these kids with their heads buried in Bible Bowl binders. I've been in the classroom as they have adjusted their points in debate preparation. I've heard Caleb upstairs in his room practicing leading his song before bed. I love to see our young people accomplish goals, so I do get excited about the award. I get more excited, though, when I see the result of the reward. When Caleb says "Hey! I know a verse for that, I learned it in Bible Bowl"; or when Abbey says, "I thought of an example in the Bible that I want to use in my speech; or when Hg says “Would you look closer at Acts 20:7 with me, so that I understand the timeline there." That's their reward, and they are rewarded all year long and will be rewarded for the rest of their lives.
So, "exactly, why am I agreeable to my kids winning a trophy for studying the Bible?" Because winning an award is fun.