My junior year of high school, I was captain of the junior varsity (JV) wrestling team. Believe me, that is not impressive. By junior year, the goal is to crack the varsity starting squad. If you follow wrestling, you know most teams have quite a few juniors, some sophomores, and even a freshman or two on varsity.
One Saturday late in the season, we had an out-of-town JV tournament. My parents made it to most of my matches, but it was a long day and a long ride, so I didn’t mind they weren’t in the stands that time. As it turns out, I took first place in my weight class.
At home, I showed the modest trophy to my father and waited for his response. He held it in his hand, looked at it thoughtfully, and said, “Maybe next year you can win a varsity trophy.”
Until that point, it had been a good day. With eight wrestlers in my 132-pound bracket, I had come out on top. But my dad’s remark cut me like a knife. Words from a parent can do that. But as harsh as his words sounded, they weren’t inaccurate. The goal for a high school wrestler is to make the varsity lineup and rack up some wins at that level. You might even say those words needed to be said. But not that day. After the season or over the summer, there would be time to talk about my wrestling goals for senior year.
What should my dad have said as he held that trophy? “Wonderful! Sorry we missed it.” “Tell me about that championship match.” “You deserve this, I know how hard you’ve been working.” Those kinds of responses unify relationships.
To be clear, there was no expectation on my part for a giant banner or a victory parade. After all, the local paper doesn’t even cover JV sports. But that moment was a time for modest celebration, and it would have been nice if my dad would have, well, celebrated.
In other words, a moment of emotion should be matched by the same emotion. If a loved one is celebrating, celebrate with them. If a friend is hurting, hurt with them. If a teenager is angry, don’t tell them to get over it. Find out the real source of their anger, and help them channel their anger in a healthy way.
The best part about this lesson is that I didn’t make it up. Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
So do that. If your friend, family member, colleague, or even an adversary is going through an emotion of any kind, it may be tempting to express the opposite. But matching their emotions is one of the keys to building healthy relationships.
By the way, years later my father and I talked about that Saturday tournament and modest trophy. He recalled being quite proud, but admitted he was just doing what so many dads do. And rightfully so. He was challenging me to the next level.
(excerpted in part from Don’t Take the Bait to Escalate and 52 Things Sons Need from Their Dads)