I suppose the exercise was innocent enough-but it was certainly short sided. A few weeks ago my 12 year old son completed a basketball camp here in Italy. He has played on the same club team for four years and he is the only foreigner on his team. In all honesty he is of average skill on the court. Based on talent I would place him in about the middle of his 20 player squad. His greatest strength is his defense. He excels in this-but is often not recognized for his ability to cover well. We felt like this camp would really help him in his skills and in gaining fresh confidence.
Towards the end of the week long camp the coach decided to conduct an NBA style draft to choose three teams. Three captains were chosen (the three best or most popular players). Each captain was given 500 Euros in fake money to select whom he wished to be a part of his team-needing to out bid the other two captains for any particular player. My son was chosen last for the minimum price of 5 Euros. We learned this as we were driving home from the camp-it was the second thing he mentioned when we asked him how the week had gone. Being 12 years old my son has learned a little in how to manage some of his disappointments living in Italy as an outsider. He still spoke positively of the rest of the week-what he had learned-the relational time hanging out with the guys. But I knew this was deeply wounding. As soon as the words came out of his mouth I had a profound sense of anger, empathy and helplessness. I quickly recalled a time in my own life when I was eight years old and being chosen last for a playground game at school. No one ever wants to be chosen last and it never, ever feels good. We found out later that none of the other captains even wanted him-so the final captain was forced to take him at the minimum price.
I have lived in this country long enough to know that this was more about not being Italian than it was about talent. I think all cultures are like this to a greater or lesser degree. So this is not a post to rant on Italy and it’s lack of social acceptance. This episode caused me to reflect more deeply on the worth of something. The world is constantly placing a value on our existence. And usually it has far more to do with our perceived beauty, status, or utilitarian benefit. I struggle with this all the time. Like all of us I want to be liked and well thought of. I want to be significant in other people’s eyes. I want to matter. But every time I try and find this sense of worth and value as a broken person from a broken world-I only end up more empty and deeply disappointed. In those moments I am in need of a different perspective-a different value base from which I can live. In Deuteronomy 26:18 Yahweh tells Israel that He “has declared today that you are a people for His treasured possession”. Peter says something very similar in the New Testament that applies to all who truly follow Christ. In chapter two he states that we are “living stones rejected by men but precious in the sight of God”. He goes on to say, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession”. Peter is using Old Testament language to communicate an eternal truth. Our worth in God’s sight is inestimable. We matter so much to Him that He paid the price of His perfect Son to redeem us from our sin and imperfection. That is a value beyond talent, status, or beauty.
My son and I have talked through the basketball camp scenario a few times. I still have not figured out the best way to help him see his true value in Christ. At 12 years old where you fit in the pecking order of a sports team still really matters. I still hurt for him every time I think about this episode. I want to be able to rescue him from all of the world’s harsh ways-but I can’t. There is One who is our ultimate Rescuer who has proclaimed that we are His treasured possession. You and I are worth more that five Euros to the God of the universe. Whose estimation will you and I live from today?