Cleaning out the garage, I came across a box of my old trophies, medallions, and ribbons, once received with such pride, now wrapped in newspaper and layered with dust. When I was a teen, these graced my walls and shelves and bolstered my self-esteem by pinpointing moments of greatness and success. A plaque for Swimmer of the Month (but not the golden kick board I got to use because of it). Heat ribbons and meet ribbons for swimming. Trophies and signed balls from playing softball. My trophy for walking 75 miles (over the course of my fifth grade year). The “Outstanding Sixth Grade Girl” trophy that I received without explanation. And while I realize these tributes of the past are without display merit, I find I am reluctant to toss them and, instead, tuck them into a dark corner, hoping they escape my husband’s eye and bias against sentimentality.
These awards and accolades, and the awards and accolades I didn’t receive but wanted, helped shape who I am. I have found that praise is good for the soul, but sometimes not receiving it is equally, if not more, beneficial. For some of our moments of greatness and success go unnoticed by others. I remember thinking myself a candidate for a prestigious award at my junior high school. In fact, I tried to make sure I was doing the types of activities that fit the criteria for the award, and I was devastated when another girl was announced as the recipient. Of course, I never admitted to anyone that I had thought myself worthy, certainly not that I had actually attempted to earn the award. But I was properly ashamed of myself for spending a year performing in pursuit of it rather than a year performing for the sake of honoring God by doing my best. Its absence in my box of dusty trophies represents a lesson well learned.
At the school where I teach, we offer demerits for poor behavior and merits for those random acts of good behavior. Both are offered, not requested. The occasional student, asking for a merit, finds it backfires. Our goal is that students perform well to do their best and to glorify God, not to collect a stack of merits. If someone notices and offers a merit, great, but a merit should not be the motivation behind the good deed.
Last week, to mark the end of the baseball season, our coach awarded trophies to a minority of the players on the team: MVP, MVP Defense, Best Pitcher, Leadership Award, Servant’s Heart Award; some granted due to skill, others due to character. I wouldn’t want to be in a coach’s shoes when designating awards at the end of a season. If an award isn’t based on irrefutable facts–such as player stats–it usually disappoints someone. Knowing that makes me long for those Little League days, when every player received a trophy and kind words from the coach.
But looking at my box of dusty trophies–and the significant absence of others–reminds me that doing my best and striving to do better, whether or not I am rewarded or even noticed, is what’s important. It’s about working harder, becoming better, pursuing excellence in skill or character. For baseball players, the season’s record represents the team. Individuals sometimes give up key opportunities to look good in lieu of helping the team get the win or develop depth in the lineup. Those are honorable behaviors not always acknowledged. I suspect each boy on the team had at least a private moment of greatness during the season; not all would take home a trophy to represent it.
True trophies, however, are those that can’t collect dust. If our personal best isn’t heads above the rest, it may go unnoticed. If our character development doesn’t stand out to others, it may be overlooked. In I Corinthians 9:21, Paul says, we should run the race in such a way as to get the prize; he didn’t say we were guaranteed a prize if we did. In other words, we must do everything with all our heart–and maybe we’ll get a prize. But we’ve got to give everything, regardless.
A quote is attributed to one of my heroes, Eric Liddell, a runner in the 1924 Olympics. He says ,“In the dust of defeat as well as the laurels of victory there is a glory to be found if one has done his best.”
May we find our true trophies in the glory of doing our best.