June 3, 2016

It’s All Good / Patti Lamb

Do your best with the wonderful gifts God has given you

Patti LambMy fifth-grade son, Henry, participated on our parish’s CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) track team this spring. I am grateful that CYO exists to “help young people practice and live Gospel values through athletic experiences.”

The season taught us a particularly important lesson, which I’ll get to shortly.

First, however, I should explain that competitive running is new to my son. Knowing that exercise is important, it’s a new sport he’s trying, as he continues to seek his niche.

Meet after meet, I noticed Henry’s expression upon crossing the finish line. He was usually near the end of the pack. One afternoon on the way home from a meet, he expressed disappointment with himself.

“I came in second from last,” he said, feeling inadequate.

Our conversation continued, and he talked about seeing others consistently finish far ahead of him throughout the season.

That’s when I reminded him of something the coach explained at the beginning of track season. Coach talked to the young athletes about reaching his or her own “personal best,” which is an achievement in a competition that’s better than anything you’ve achieved previously.

Coach said, “What I’m trying to communicate is that you should strive to do your best with the gifts God has given you.” He conveyed that what’s most important isn’t to win or place at the top, but to do better today than you’ve done in the past.

I empathize with my son’s frustration. Often, life feels like a track meet. We’re each in our own lanes, and we see others pass us by in one way or another. It’s easy to feel defeated.

We don’t all bring home awards, trophies, scholarships or work promotions and bonuses. What matters most is what we do with what we’ve been given. Each new day is an opportunity to strive for our own little victories in whatever we do, wherever God has placed us.

I believe God sees those moments when we achieve personal bests in life (even if someone else outperforms us), and he smiles. He is pleased when we are the best versions of ourselves. I think that’s all he really asks.

God also sees when we stray or fall far from the mark. He still loves us, and cheers for us to perform better next time.

I reiterated to my son that it’s not about who crosses the finish line first. Then I told him about something I witnessed at the CYO city preliminary track meet. A heat of incredibly fast runners competed with all their might, and it was a close finish. After the first three young women to cross the finish line caught their breath, they hugged each other. Then they hugged or high-fived every single other competitor in that heat when she crossed the finish line. They celebrated running hard and finishing the race.

I shared one of my favorite Bible verses with Henry. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Col 3:23).

When we achieve our personal bests, it pleases God. This track season taught my family to stop viewing life as a competition. It’s not about whose fastest, smartest, prettiest, richest. … As you know, the list goes on.

It’s about doing your best with the wonderful gifts our gracious God has chosen for unique you.

Cheers, gratitude and blessings to Coach Colin (and the whole Donahue family) for giving of their time and hearts this season, and for helping us to recognize this beautiful message.

(Patti Lamb, a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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