“Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” — John 16:20 NIV
Father and Son Project
Have you ever had the opportunity to do something special with your child, but you blew it? I sure have. In my book The 4 Habits of Raising Joy-Filled Kids written with Dr. Marcus Warner, I share the time I blew it with my 6-year-old son Andrew, where I botched an opportunity to be a superhero. I missed what could have been a meaningful memory with my son.
An upcoming Pinewood Derby competition was scheduled to take place at a local church. Andrew was head-over-heels excited about this opportunity to build a race car then test it against other cars. As soon as he heard about this race, he begged, “Daddy, will you help me build a fast car? PPPLLLEEEAAASSSEEEE?” How could I refuse?
At the time I remember thinking, “What a great opportunity to create a joyful memory with my son. We can work together to create the ultimate race car that wins races. This will bring a smile to my son’s face! How hard can it be to build a Pinewood Derby car?”
My intentions were good. My desire was admirable. Every loving father wants to do something special for his child. Right? I planned to work alongside my son to create this incredible memory. The only problem was, simply, my mechanical skills were limited. I lacked the experience to build a race car, especially a winning race car.
In spite of my limitations, I was determined to find a solution and figure this out. I searched online for examples on building Pinewood Derby cars, particularly, cars that win.
We gathered the necessary pieces and went to work. We built the car. We sanded the car. We painted the car. We even placed colorful decals on the car. My son was excited for race day. He counted down the hours until he could show off his car.
The day arrived. Cars were placed on the track. Our number was called; we were up. On the first race, it quickly became apparent I made an error. A big one. My son’s car lost every race! We didn’t simply lose every race. We finished last place. Every. Single. Time.
It was awful. I quickly realized I failed to put enough weight in the car. This meant the car was too light. Without enough weight, the car barely rolled down the ramps. It was embarrassing. I still remember the look on my son’s face when he turned to me after watching his car lose several times over. He looked absolutely defeated.
“What happened, Daddy?” he asked. I felt my stomach roll in knots. “I’m so sorry buddy. It looks like I did not put enough weight in the car – and the car is just too light. We will learn from this and do better next time.” I wasn’t even sure if I believed the words that came out of my mouth. My son’s head hung low as we walked out of the building. We left the competition feeling crushed. Our special memory turned into a wash.
Or did it?
Even though the car failed to win, we surprisingly found some joy in the journey. While we brilliantly lost every race, my son and I genuinely enjoyed building the car together. The process of working together was fun. It was meaningful. There was laughter. We had a sense of adventure. My son and I genuinely felt glad-to-be-together joy along with excitement to try something new. We built positive memories while turning a block of wood into a car.
This experience proved to be a valuable lesson, that joy can be found even when we lose. As Marcus and I say in our 4 Habits book,
“While we need to do things to keep our kids safe, our goal is not to wrap them in a bubble, but to help them learn how to experience hard things (emotional and physical) and bounce back…Joy-filled kids are ones who learn to do hard things and enjoy the satisfaction of their work. They learn the rhythm of rest, work, and play.” (77-78)
I like winning as much as anyone, but the process of working together and doing hard things was valuable for my son’s development. We had a goal in mind and we worked hard to meet our goal to build a car. This process was deeply satisfying.
More than Winning
I took responsibility for my failure. I did not justify myself when it was clear I dropped the ball. I owned my failure. I acknowledged that I failed to add enough weight. Without realizing it, my example taught my son valuable lessons that day, possibly even more than if we won the race.
Together we can work hard to reach a goal. We tried something new that was unfamiliar. Now we will learn from this and gain more experience and wisdom to throw at it next time.
Failure is not the end of the story. There is gold in the hills of hardship and disappointment. Failure is the opportunity for joy to grow, and wisdom to increase. In the midst of our loss and frustration, we found joy in the journey.
One of the main points Marcus and I make in our 4 Habits book is this: families are for growing joy. I recognize this may not feel true for many of us, where we would not place joy in the same sentence as family. Yet, the reality is this. Joy is relational. Joy is where people are glad to be together – and it shows. Happiness is not joy, because happiness is circumstantial while joy is relational. We can hold onto joy no matter what is going on around us.
I appreciate the fact that in John 16:20, Jesus prepared the disciples for His eventual departure but He also told them, “your grief will turn to joy.” There is yet hope, even in the hard times. Psalm 30:5 NIV tells us, “For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Painful feelings, hard emotions, and difficult challenges will surely happen in this life. However, relational, glad-to-be-together joy with God and with each other is possible, even attainable for all of us.
We know from brain science joy is foundational for our character development as well as our emotional and mental well-being. Joy means we are the sparkle in someone else’s eyes. Faces light up to see us when we walk into the room. Joy is what we feel when we realize we are not alone in our hardships and struggles, because someone is with us. And, they are glad to be with us – even when we lose.
In spite of my shortcomings, the silver lining in this story is that all of us can grow joy. We don’t have to be successful, nor do we have to win every race or game to find joy. Joy is accessible. Who are you glad to be with today? Use your face, words and presence to show it.
We now know the brain has a “joy center” located in the relational control center in the right hemisphere, and when this circuit is working, we are primed for glad-to-be-together joy. When it shuts down, we go into what is called “enemy mode” where people feel more like problems instead of sources of joy.
The skills you’ll learn in The 4 Habits of Raising Joy-Filled Kids will not only help you parent your children well, but they will also help you grow joy in your family.