I have had a pretty crummy day. Nothing really bad happened. But I had to tell my little warrior that he didn’t achieve his Black Belt today. It has weighed heavily on me all day, kinda overshadowing what was otherwise a pretty decent day. As the day winds to an end, I know that I will always remember walking into the room where Jeremiah was getting his gear together and breaking it to him that he didn’t make it. It was SO STINKING HARD to look him in the eye and tell him the news.
However, in a society where kids are told they never fail, where child athletes are told “everyone wins,” a valuable lesson was learned today; for Jeremiah and myself.
First, Jeremiah told me through the tears that he knew he hadn’t performed at an expert level. He knew he hadn’t done well, but he had hoped it was enough. We were able to have a REALLY good talk about what it means to be a Black Belt, and how it’s so much more than just knowing the material. There is a proficiency level that accompanies the knowledge. The Black Belt test isn’t like other belt tests. Other belt tests tend to be more “pass/fail” tests. But the Black Belt test is more of an assessment of the students abilities to determine if they are an expert in their art. For instance, a student seeking to advance from orange belt to yellow belt needs to show a proficiency commensurate with that belt, seeking to show their progression. The Black Belt, however, must demonstrate that he/she has mastered all of the materials for all of the belts and is able to teach, model, and instruct. Where as the potential orange belt may progress with a score of 70%, the student seeking his/her Black Belt must perform around 90%. In our conversations today, Jeremiah conveyed he felt like he’d failed. As we talked it through, however, he discovered that he passed the test, just not at the level he needed to. While heart broken about it, it served to remind him of his responsibility to the Belt and to motivate him to be that much better when he tests again in a month.
Second, I learned that sometimes heartbreak moves us to excellence. As much as I hated to tell him that he hadn’t gotten his Belt, and as deeply hurt as he was, I was able to walk through it with him and share a life moment with my son. Life is going to be full of these moments. As a dad, I HATE when my kids are hurting, and do everything I can to protect them from hurt. But not only is that impossible, but it’s not healthy for my children. Hard times will come. There will be greater disappointments in life than not receiving his Black Belt. The greater lesson is learning how to handle set backs. How I coach him through disappointment will be a lesson he will carry into life. If I divert the disappointment, what does he gain? At best, he gains a belt he didn’t earn. At worst, he learns that he doesn’t have to face failure. The reality check for me today was to hurt with him, hurt for him, and understand that this makes him not just a better Martial Artist, but a better person.
Third, and you knew it was coming if you know me, there is a spiritual application. “The Lord is near the broken-hearted.” Psalm 34:18 Perhaps we spend too much time trying to be comfortable and successful and miss a major way that God makes His presence known to us. As a parent, do I rob my children of an opportunity to deepen their faith by shielding them too much? Even as I write this, the Daddy in me is screaming, “How could I ever let my kids suffer? There’s no such thing as protecting them too much! They are MY kids!” But I don’t think that’s it. I think that the place I landed today is that failure is a part of life and failure is a means of deepening our faith. Today I was able to hold my little boy, encourage and connect with him in a meaningful way, and point him to never giving up. And maybe, just maybe, he will find the same comfort and counsel in God’s arms when the failure is much greater.
Just in case you read this, Buddy, I love you and am proud of you. I know that you will take today and build from it. Keep your chin up, your eyes bright, and get done what needs to get done. And, most of all, remember that God is nearer to you than you can know.
And I also need to say “Thank You” to Master Jason for shooting straight with Jeremiah. It would have been easy to say, “Close Enough.” But that wouldn’t have been right nor what’s best for Jeremiah. I know it was tough, but you did the right thing, and I appreciate that. I whole heartedly believe that Jeremiah will more deeply appreciate his ability when he reaches his next goal because of today.