The picture is a little fuzzy. It was an action shot and so seriously zoomed in that it’s probably amazing that it’s as clear as it is. But it’s plenty clear enough, and I smile every time I look at it.
My next-to-the-youngest grandchild, a precocious little eight-year-old—and, of course, an amazing little beauty in every way—is in mortal combat with another little girl as they’re sliding around on the floor of a basketball court. The ref will soon blow his whistle and signal the “tie ball,” but Kendall is not planning to let go of that ball until somebody pries it out of her hands. Heart and soul, she’s very much in that game.
It’s fun to see her having fun, and it’s fun to see her playing really competitively. In the photo, her lips are parted, and her teeth are gritted, and her face is formed into the scariest sort of grimace that an eight-year-old sweetie could possibly pull off.
This is the same little girl who, in a game a couple of weeks before, missed a good bit of the action because she was busy consoling one of the “enemy.” She had her arm around a little girl who was sobbing, tears welling up in her eyes, obviously scared stiff and not at all happy to be out on the court. The game was rushing on, but Kendall was busy taking care of that little girl. I loved that. I love her heart, and I love her priorities. Kendall could’ve scored a three-point shot, nothing but net, and her PawPaw wouldn’t have been more proud of her.
Need I tell you that in the more recent game, her heart was still the same? But that opponent’s heart was definitely not being broken, and Kendall meant to come away with the ball.
Good for her! The moment called for some serious competitiveness. It was also—and this is the thing that causes me to chuckle—a good photo op. Oh, she had a death grip on that ball, but guess where her eyes were focused? On her mom—and her mother’s camera. Not only does the little girl have court sense, she recognized that her own personal group of paparazzi deserved some good shots.
But photo op aside, our girl was doing a good job, and getting the job done called for grit and determination. It also called, her PawPaw thinks, for some wisdom. Making that kind of split-second decision does not come with time to write an essay about pros and cons, even though her proud grandfather is indeed writing an essay about it. You either know, on the basketball court and in life, when the time is right to grit your teeth and compete full speed ahead, from the time when mercy and compassion and a hug is the only right response—or you don’t.
I know. More than a few people berate those who choose for kindness. You don’t have time for that if you want to get ahead in this world, they say, and they consider mercy and compassion to be weakness, traits for losers. They are wrong.
Just for fun, I googled “soft hearts and compassion.” Surprise! In one psychological journal article, the writer said that a person with these traits could almost be said to possess a “superpower,” a very real strength. And, of course, it wasn’t in a journal but in his “Sermon on the Mount” that Jesus said that “the meek will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5). He went on, you recall, to talk about the beautiful blessing that comes from being “merciful,” the incredible power of being a “peacemaker.” I love the paraphrase in The Message: “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”
Wisdom means knowing the times and seasons. If you’re on the basketball court, there’s rarely a time when you should kindly offer the ball to your opponent. And it’s no game but a sad truth in this fallen world that sometimes terrible wars must be fought if we care about justice and refuse to let evil misleaders trample the weak and spread their poison.
But beware of those who never see a time to help a deserving coworker rise to the top and be genuinely glad for their success, never find a time to say a kind word about a political opponent or try to find ways to work together across walls to wisely compromise (it’s a good and noble word, in this sense) to accomplish at least something together.
A person who can always easily find an excuse to be angry and mean and call it conviction is weak and small and cowardly, a loser even if he “wins.” When we live by “biting and devouring” others, everyone loses (Galatians 5).
I think our little girl is showing some real wisdom. We can learn a good deal from an eight-year-old who shows some court sense and some life sense.
Copyright 2023 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.