Recently, my 9 year old son earned first place in showmanship at our county fair. This is remarkable if you know my son because he does not come by this naturally. He has a hard time with competition, and to be honest, his very spirit seems to rebel against the idea of hard work. This win did not come easy for him. He has worked for two and a half years learning what showmanship is all about. He has lost, and I mean REALLY lost, many showmanship classes. He has been in tears after a show. He has yelled at us when we offer advice. He has attended workshops. He has watched youtube videos. He has spent his summer mornings out in the show barn while other kids his age are watching cartoons.
And after he won, a fellow 4H leader made the comment to me that “It isn’t really fair when kids who show in all of these other sheep shows around the country come to these county fairs and win, when the other kids are just learning.”
I’m sorry… what? I didn’t reply in that moment, not out of a desire to be kind, but because I was truly too stunned to know what to say!
When we talk about being fair, I think we really mean that it feels as though justice is not being done. When we work hard, we all want to be rewarded. When we follow the rules, and do our best, it should be enough. When we put in the effort, we want to win the trophy. And when we don’t, life doesn’t feel fair.
But that is not what Justice is. Justice at its core is rooted in God’s own character. Where we fall in line with God and His Will, there is justice. Winning or losing have nothing to do with justice in and of itself.
Now when someone harms an animal in order to win a show, that is injustice. If someone hurts another competitor to win, that is injustice. If there is a bribe involved, that is injustice. Working harder than others is not being unfair. Being better than someone else at something is not being unfair. Not being rewarded with a trophy just because you have worked hard is not unfair.
When my kids say something isn’t fair, they absolutely do not mean that there has been a perversion of justice. They actually mean that life didn’t hand them what they felt like they deserved. It’s so easy to see it when it’s your own child. But it’s harder when it’s us. When it’s our spirit crying out about justice. But honestly. In my heart, I know that When I say something isn’t fair, most often what I mean is that we are not getting what we feel we deserve.
I constantly struggle with my own competitive, fallen nature, and trying to teach my kids righteousness, justice, and grace. I want to live out my values in the midst of everything we do, and showing livestock is no exception. And to be honest, there have been times when I have sat and watched people win and I have thought to myself “that doesn’t seem fair!” And maybe sometimes justice isn’t being done, but I would guess that most often it’s actually my entitlement of wanting to see justice done in my own way.
A movie we saw recently ended with a pep talk by a gymnastics coach and she said "I have to let you girls in on a secret. Everything I've been trying to tell you, this isn't about gymnastics, this is about life."
Not everyone lives on a farm, and not everyone has a desire to raise livestock, but I am learning that this isn't just about showing sheep. This is life.
I don’t have this child raising thing all figured out yet, but I am certain that I do not want to pass on to my kids a legacy of a life lived with a constant feeling of entitlement. Sometimes we work hard, and we win. And sometimes we work hard, and we lose. That is no more than we deserve. And it most certainly is fair.