Our family was sitting in church on Christmas Eve last year when our ten-year-old, Dylan, tapped on my left shoulder during one of the musical performances. I looked towards him as he leaned over to ask me what time it was. That was a question that I asked often while I was a child in church as well.
I’m easily distractible and always up for a challenge. So instead of telling him the time, I asked him to guess. He thought for a moment, and gave an excited prediction. I showed him my phone to let him know that he was a few minutes off. Apparently, he enjoys a challenge too because he tapped my shoulder again a few minutes later.
“Don’t look at your phone,” he instructed as a big smile appeared on his face. “What time do you think it is?”
A challenge was on. But he didn’t know that this competition was rigged from the start. He didn’t know that when I turned my head slightly to the left, I had a clear view of the audio/video table which displays, in full red digital numbers, the current time. So I casually glanced over, pretended to give it some thought and gave my answer.
“4:42,” I said.
“4:38!” he countered.
I showed him my phone to show that I was spot on.
It wasn’t long before he asked to do the challenge again. He gave his time. I turned my head again, and then made mine. I was right again. By the third time, he became partially amazed at the special ability that I seemed to possess while also becoming slightly frustrated that he was losing each time.
By the fourth time- another perfect victory for me- he suspected foul play. I didn’t give up my angle because I saw a cool lesson taking place. By the fifth challenge, he watched me so I couldn’t look around. I had to guess out of the blue- as he did- and amazingly, I got that one right too. There were a few minutes left in the service, and yes, Pastor Steve Coad, I was paying attention the rest of the time. Dylan asked for the challenge one last time. This time, he was paying close attention to not only the time but my movements as well. For the second time, I needed to guess.
“5:27,” I answered.
“5:26!” he responded.
Dylan was right. Spot on. His first victory of the evening, and just in time.
Even though he won the last one, later that day, he asked me how I got the time right so often. I didn’t tell him yet because I knew that I wanted to present the lesson in a better way at a later point. So I played coy and refused to answer.
Yesterday at church, he wanted to play again. This time, though, I didn’t have a clear look at the clock so I decided to participate without my secret advantage. He guessed. I guessed. And he was right. Later on, we battled again. And like the last time, his smile beamed when my phone showed again that he was correct. I obviously didn’t have the magic touch without my crutch and Dylan was hitting his stride. We went for one last challenge- just like on Christmas Eve- and he completed the sweep.
I looked at him in amazement and he smiled his huge smile at me.
“Dad, he whispered into my ear, “there is a clock in the back with big red letters- that’s how I knew!”
We drove home yesterday preparing to entertain friends at our home but I kept thinking about those exchanges- both the current one and the one on Christmas Eve. When Dylan and I did that first competition, I wrote notes on how I would explain this to him when he was older and needed to learn this. The lesson was that sometimes in life, you will be competing with someone else that will be given the answers that you don’t have. They might have a boss that gives them preferential treatment, a parent that buys their way in, or they might just know the right place to look.
But just because you lose to someone that has already been given the answers, it doesn’t mean that you stop trying or that you give up. The lesson that I wanted to teach him at some point was that others beating you should not affect your confidence, drive and ambition because you have no clue if they were being handed the answers without you even knowing, like what happened in church. He had no chance of beating me because I already knew that answer.
But life isn’t fair. It never is, and never will be. Someone will always know more- whether they started before you, have more talent and experience or they just knew where to look to get the answers, the important part is that you don’t get defeated, you don’t get bitter and you keep going to consistently improve yourself and it will all work out.
When we went to play yesterday- even though he had been thoroughly defeated the past time- he still wanted to try. Even when he was losing on Christmas Eve, because the competition was so stiff, he tried harder and got better. By the end- without my crutch- he had beaten me.
But yesterday, he learned to look around. He learned to find answers elsewhere. And he realized that if you keep going, you keep learning and you keep looking, things will consistently improve.
And yeah, technically, he was cheating. But he could argue that we never set any rules to the contrary so maybe he wasn’t. That would mean that maybe I wasn’t either on Christmas Eve. I just found a better way. And then, through experience, he learned to find a better way as well. That, to me, is the lesson. It’s easy to make excuses. It’s common to blame others. It’s convenient to say that you don’t have the experience, the upbringing or the proper background.
That all might be true. You can say those things. But can you say that you are looking to find a better way? Are you pushing aside your disadvantages or are you using them as an excuse to not improve? It’s easy to quit. Few will blame you because it gives them an excuse to quit as well. But there is always an answer. And all it might take to find it is to look around a little more.
You never know when the answer, like that clock, will be right beside you.