With one lap to go, my child fell behind his teammates running around the soccer field. From the look on his face, I knew something was wrong. Not something as simple as a stitch in the side or a sore ankle, but a wound that burned far deeper.

Meadow Rue Merrill

As soon as practice was over, he followed me to our truck. “I don’t think I want to play soccer anymore,” he confided, head hanging.

“You don’t?” I asked. “Was it hard today?”

“I’m terrible at soccer,” he said. “Every time we were supposed to get the ball, the other kid got it before me.”

“But did you have fun?”

“No,” he said. “I want to quit.”

“If you don’t want to play soccer next year, that’s fine,” I told him. “But you can’t quit now, because your teammates are counting on you. And here’s something else I know, some kids are really talented at kicking or throwing a ball, and that’s great. But you are great at something even more important.”

“I am?” His face perked up. “What?”

“I don’t know yet,” I admitted. “But I know that when you feel like a failure and want to quit, it is really important to keep going. Because if your gift is something like curing cancer, you are going to fail and fail and fail, but if you keep going, someday you could save every person on your team.”

No parent likes to see their children struggle — whether it’s on the athletic field or in the classroom or trying to find someone to sit with at school lunch. I struggled at all three. But, uncomfortable as it was, my struggle caused me to develop gifts I didn’t even know I had. The ability to laugh at myself. The knowledge that if I worked hard enough, I could succeed. Deeper abiding friendships in place of superficial, plentiful ones.

“Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us,” scripture says in Hebrews 12:1 (NLT). As we are running, we should keep our eyes on Jesus, the writer goes on to say, remembering how much he endured, so that we won’t become weary and give up. I’ve never endured anything as harsh as a Roman cross. Yet, God himself did not spare his own son from struggle.

Why? Because in and of itself, struggle is not bad. Even the fiercest struggle can produce great good if we don’t grow weary and give up. To discover your gifts and those of your children, it takes time, the courage to try new things and the willingness to keep trying.

“Maybe next year I’ll sign up for baseball,” my son said on the drive home.

Baseball one year. Curing cancer the next.

Whatever his gifts, we’ll discover them together.

Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of Midcoast Maine. “The Christmas Cradle,” the first book in her Lantern Hill Farm picture-book series, is now available. Connect at www.meadowrue.com

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