It may have been one of the hardest evenings of my life.
That’s a sad statement if I think about it now—given everything I have persevered through, and especially when compared to the challenges others face.
It was a hockey practice. I volunteered as the one ice-parent-helper for my son’s first ever hockey evaluation. The whole family was anticipating the occasion because we all knew how much the little guy loved the sport.
I didn’t think I was vicariously living some hockey pipe-dream through my boy. Really, I didn’t. Yes, I enjoy the game and played it a ton in my youth, but my other kids have participated in a myriad of other activities and it never bothered me at all. I celebrate their unique interests and joys.
Then he stepped on the ice.
His newly sharpened skates had a dull edge making pushing off frustratingly futile. We solved that, and he returned with eagerness. It became abundantly clear, however, that he was not even close to the level of his peers. Some of those boys had played competitively for three years, were just coming off summer hockey, and may very well have spent the day consuming energy drinks laced with Sidney Crosby DNA.
My boy was out-of-his-league.
I could see it, and that stirred strange emotions. He didn’t see it, but only at first. His hopelessness grew as the coach ran drills he’d never heard of, or expected abilities he’d not yet developed. It unraveled rapidly from that point, his little soul crushed with his head down and his eyes pouring water like a Zamboni.
Watching this, of course, wrecked me, but I couldn’t show it. I had to help guide the drills and keep the swarm of sweaty young males moving.
My heart was a mess. My boy was doing all he could, but it wasn’t nearly enough, and I just wanted to sweep him off the ice and rescue him from this big, bad joke of Canadiana. Yet, strangely simultaneous to this soft-heartedness, I wanted to push him harder. I desperately wanted him to suck it up, grow up and play like he can and not embarrass me. Dangerous words fought to get from my head to my tongue; words that had the potential to make me feel better and him feel worse. I wrestled all these things in my depths, and it wasn’t pretty.
Into this messy space the Holy Spirit spoke more clearly than if a referee had blown a whistle in my ear. I was called to be onside with grace. I looked in my son’s teary little eyes that pleaded with me for protection, that begged me to end the torture, and I knew that what he needed most was two things: he needed to experience the joy that comes with persevering through despite the pain, and he needed to know that my view of him was not remotely connected to his performance.
He needed to know that sonship trumps everything; that grace is tangible. I needed to know that. This was a Good News moment where the hope and mystery of the Gospel of Jesus could break onto an ice pad and parent and child could know together, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we might also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17).
Now, I know that a challenging hockey practice is not the same as the sufferings of Christ, but if I’m not going to join the ways of Jesus there, I’m probably not doing it other places either. The hope of the Gospel is for every situation, and as a father who follows Jesus, that Saturday night became an occasion for teaching and embodying the Gospel that so satisfyingly declares that God delights in his kids and is routinely more interested in my faithful perseverance than any slick performance.
And that, for fathers and sons, is good news indeed.