Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

That’s not fair!

Our son, Barnabas, comments in World Magazine  online about winning and losing. He begins:

Recently, as we were flipping through radio stations in the car, my 6-year-old daughter heard the song “We Are the Champions” by Queen. She asked what a champion is, and we started talking about winning and losing. At one point in the conversation she said, “Winning isn’t fair because not everyone can do it.” Her response is, sadly, quite common. (Read the rest of what he has to say about the idea that “everyone is a winner.”)

In contrast, there are cultures where life’s primary impetus or “encouragement”  is shame. In such a culture, this would be true for children in school, for spouses toward each other, for employers toward employees. It would be true in every arena.

But let’s just stay in the child-rearing part of life’s arena, since that’s what Barnabas is focusing on. To give you an idea of what I mean when I name shame as prime motivator, here’s what one Chinese mother says:

The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—even legally actionable—to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, “Hey fatty—lose some weight.” By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of “health” and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image. . . .

Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best. Chinese parents can say, “You’re lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you.” By contrast, Western parents have to struggle with their own conflicted feelings about achievement, and try to persuade themselves that they’re not disappointed about how their kids turned out.

So, there are the two precipices to avoid:

1. Everyone is a winner.

2. You are nothing, because someone else is performing better than you.

That mesa is not even the right place to be maneuvering, trying to stay somewhere between the two treacherous precipices.

What do I want to say instead to a child I love or on whose upbringing I have some influence? I think of many things, but here’s one way to say it.

“The LORD is  the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable” (Is. 40:28).

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together  for good,  for  those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

Your God, your Creator, your Father loves you and knows you better than anyone else can ever know you. He wants you to be blessed, happy. He also knows what he wants you to achieve, and he offers you magnificent, out-of-this-world rewards. His desires for you?

  •  Blessed are  the poor in spirit, for  theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  •  Blessed are  those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
  •  Blessed are the  meek, for they  shall inherit the earth.
  •  Blessed are those who hunger and  thirst  for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
  •  Blessed are  the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
  •  Blessed are  the pure in heart, for  they shall see God.
  •  Blessed are  the peacemakers, for  they shall be called  sons  of God.
  •  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for  theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  •  Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely  on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven . . . . (Matt. 5:3-12)
I hope you’ll notice that his primary desires for your happiness don’t mention anything scholarly or professional, though fulfilling his desires will affect these and all aspects of your life.
Does his list seem overwhelming? Just remember this: He knows your weaknesses, and you can achieve what he wants you to achieve, through him who strengthens you (Phil. 4:13).
  • Leave a Comment (9)  

9 Responses to “That’s not fair!”

  1. yes. Thats all. Yes.

  2. Excellent.

  3. Thank you for this. Extremely encouraging.

  4. Wow. I never thought of it like that. I’m Korean, raised in an America, so having those two types of worlds that you mentioned was kind of confusing to my mind as I grew/(grow) up, but to know that the Lord is for me, no matter what, brings me such confidence! Thank you! This has blessed me.

  5. Hi

    I am not sure I can agree that God wants us to be “happy”.

    He is more concerned with our holiness than our happiness.
    He is more concerned with our character than our comfort.

    Could you please revisit this part of your otherwise very interesting article.


    • You have found the consistent struggle of the reformed Christian. What is happiness?

      As you may know, Noel’s husband John has a mantra that goes as follows: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” God’s lone motivation to accomplish any purpose is for His glory. However, Dr. Piper asserts, and I agree, that God’s glorification in humans reaches the penultimate level when the believer no longer values any part of creation more than the creator. What that means for us then is that God wants us happy, deeply happy, even entirely overjoyed in Him. Romans 8:38 says that “He works all things together for our good,” when you read that verse in the mindset that the only thing that can always be good for us is God, what you get is that He works all things together to bring the believers God. As we strive for God and become entirely satisfied in Him we find that God works to create His Holiness and His character in us, which leads directly to that same happiness and comfort. They are inseparable.

      Does that make sense?

    • Hamish,

      One place I get the idea that God wants us to be happy is from the Beatitudes–the verses I quoted, where it says a person will be blessed if he is holy in the ways that are listed. “Blessed” is a word that means “happy” in Greek.

      So these verses say to me that God wants us to be holy (which is the point I was making about what I want children to know), and that being holy is a blessed, happy state of affairs

      In other words, we don’t have to choose between holiness and happiness. They go together.

      “We do not mean that our happiness is the highest good. We mean that pursuing the highest good will always result in our greatest happiness in the end. We should pursue this happiness, and pursue it with all our might.” (John Piper —

      So, I think maybe you and I agree about the importance of holiness. But I wouldn’t be able to say that God doesn’t want us to be happy, for the very reason that God cares so much about our holiness, with which happiness goes hand in hand.

      Thanks for your question, for thinking about such important things.

  6. Shana (Lin-Shyr)

    Thanks for sharing this encouraging message!!I’m a taiwanese asian mom who was raised in a western south american culture…I went through so many pressures in my life to be a perfect daughter; academically and professionally.Now as a mom of two adult children,all I can say that I’m so thankful that God allowed me to learned so many good things from these two different cultures and be able to balance when I struggled to be a demanding or permissive mom, or just because you are an asian and you can’t fail; God’s words and His wonderful grace are the only best encouraging and comforting words to strengthen you when are week,and to give you peace and joy in your heart to tell you that you are loved the way you are.

  7. […] Getting excited about next week’s Gospel Coalition for women, I’ve been reading blogs from various speakers. I really liked this one by Noel Piper, who stayed at our house with her husband and two children almost 17 years ago during a hurricane, though that’s another story:-). I hope to get to reconnect with her at the conference. That’s Not Fair […]

Leave a Reply