Yes, that’s right: ‘sore winner’, not sore loser.
Many of us have experienced the terrifying wrath of a four-year-old who can’t cope with losing at snakes and ladders. Some of us will have been that four-year-old, but hopefully most of us grow up and learn to accept that, in every game of winners and losers, we will more often be the loser.
(Note, this does not apply to playing Monopoly with your rellies at Christmas.)
I’m not being pessimistic or depressing when I say that we mostly lose. That’s just how the maths works. Six kids running in the school sports day = 1 winner and 5 losers.
Brief aside: Some avoid this ‘problem’ by declaring everyone a winner, but that kinda defeats the object of having a race and is unfair on the kids who excel at running (not me). If we rank kids on how well they read, write, add up, etc, (and kids know they are ranked like this) for goodness’ sake, let sporty kids shine as well. Also, how will kids ever learn to be good losers if they never lose? <end rant>
Given that we spend a lot of our lives not coming first, not being the best, not winning the prize, we learn to be good losers and accept defeat with poise. But do we ever teach ourselves to be good winners too?
My children used to watch a quiz show in which eliminated contestants had to walk across the studio while the rest placed L-shaped fingers on their foreheads and chanted, ‘Loser! Loser!’ I really hated that part because it taught children to be sore winners instead accepting their good fortune with grace.
So how can we have a godly attitude when we win (occasionally) and when we lose (mostly)?
Let’s look at David.
The book of 1 Samuel ends with the death of Saul. Monarchy being the only thing that travels faster than light1, David immediately became king. Finally, he had won. His enemy of many years was dead, the throne was ready for his pert and noble bum, and David could set to work as God had called him.
Surely this, of all moments, was the moment for rejoicing.
But no. The start of 2 Samuel records David’s response to the news of his kingship. He laments. And he not only laments the death of his dear friend, Jonathan, but also of Saul, his enemy!
This is a very different reaction from what we often see on our screens where, as Abba sang, “The winner takes it all / The loser’s standing small”. The hero wins in glory while the thwarted villain is humiliated. The cup final champions celebrate with champagne; the second-placed team slinks home in shame. The early bird catches the worm; the worm … well …
You might have noticed “How the mighty have fallen!” in David’s lament. It’s a phrase we use to mock the pompous politician who is brought down to earth or the self-declared expert who is revealed as a fraud, but this is not how David was using it. He wasn’t crowing over Saul’s defeat, but recalling the heights he had attained. The emphasis is on the ‘mighty’, not the ‘fallen’ (and fallen means fallen in battle here.)
This lament treats Saul and Jonathan like the eliminated couple on Strictly Come Dancing where losers are not mocked or humiliated, but consoled (lots of hugs), honoured (best-bits reel), wept over (watch the mascara!) and given a final dance amid many fond goodbyes. Surely, that’s a better model than my kids’ quiz show?
When we see someone honoured, either in the world or in the church, we can ‘rejoice with those who rejoice’, without feeling ourselves diminished in God’s eyes. – his kingdom is not a competition. When we see someone brought low, we can ‘mourn with those who mourn’, without thinking ourselves better than they. For there, but for the grace of God, go any one of us.
Jewish folklore recounts a tale in which David’s son, Solomon, asks his wise men to create something that will console him in sadness and humble him in pride.
They brought him a ring engraved with “This, too, shall pass”.
In other words, losers will not always be losers, so do not despair. But winners will not always be winners, so do not crow.
Perhaps David had that ring, too.
You can make a tiny version for your finger or a bigger version for your wrist, depending on how small your writing is! Picture instructions below.
You will need:
- Coloured paper
- Glue stick
What to do:
- Cut a strip from your A4 paper: 1cm wide for a ring, or 3cm for a bracelet.
- Cut another strip, the same width and three times as long as it is wide, so 1 x 3cm for the ring (you can snip a bit from your strip) and 3 x 9cm for the bracelet (you’ll need a new bit or your bracelet will be too short).
- Put a dab of glue at one end of your long strip and attach the short strip at right angles.
- Bend the short strip behind the long strip, then around to the front again and glue the end in place. This should make a tiny flat tunnel at the end of the long strip.
- Bend your long strip around in a loop and thread the loose end through the flat tunnel. Make sure that the loose end is on the outside. If the strip won’t pull through easily, trim the sides to make it narrower.
- Pull the strip tight to make a square covering the glued ends.
- Repeat this a few more times to build up a nice ‘jewel’. Make sure you have enough strip left to go around your finger or wrist. If you have too much strip left when you make the ring, trim some off.
- Now you can decorate your ring or bracelet. Make the jewel some bright colour and write the words of Solomon’s ring around the strip:
This, too, shall pass
Here it is in Hebrew, too, if you want to copy it. The words (from right to left) are ‘gam zeh yavvor’, which means, ‘Also this will pass.’
To wear your ring, turn the jewel to the outside and thread the loose end through the tunnel again. This time the end will be on the inside and you can adjust it to fit.
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
After the death of Saul, David returned from defeating the Amalekites and stayed at Ziklag two days.
David sang the following lament for Saul and his son Jonathan, and he ordered that the Judahites be taught The Song of the Bow. It is written in the Book of Jashar:
The splendor of Israel lies slain on your heights.
How the mighty have fallen!
Do not tell it in Gath,
don’t announce it in the marketplaces of Ashkelon,
or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice,
and the daughters of the uncircumcised will gloat.
Mountains of Gilboa,
let no dew or rain be on you,
or fields of offerings,
for there the shield of the mighty was defiled—
the shield of Saul, no longer anointed with oil.
Jonathan’s bow never retreated,
Saul’s sword never returned unstained,
from the blood of the slain,
from the bodies of the mighty.
Saul and Jonathan,
loved and delightful,
they were not parted in life or in death.
They were swifter than eagles, stronger than lions.
Daughters of Israel, weep for Saul,
who clothed you in scarlet, with luxurious things,
who decked your garments with gold ornaments.
How the mighty have fallen in the thick of battle!
Jonathan lies slain on your heights.
I grieve for you, Jonathan, my brother.
You were such a friend to me.
Your love for me was more wonderful
than the love of women.
How the mighty have fallen
and the weapons of war have perished!
1: “The only thing known to go faster than ordinary light is monarchy, according to the philosopher Ly Tin Wheedle. He reasoned like this: you can’t have more than one king, and tradition demands that there is no gap between kings, so when a king dies the succession must therefore pass to the heir instantaneously.”
Terry Pratchett, Mort
Craft screen shots from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNKL32UNRQA (altered)
Holman Christian Standard Bible, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville Tennessee. All rights reserved.