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When a Loved One Struggles

At a recent tennis tournament, our 11-year old son was in the midst of a challenging match with a good friend of his. It was the sort of match where one doesn't want to see either child dispirted. So when I saw our son's light go out late in the match when he was thoroughly exhausted and frustrated, it was I who became dispirited, hopefully not outwardly, but definitely within.

I can truthfully say that my primary interest with our son's tennis journey is not whether he wins or loses; rather, it is how he is developing as a person. So to see his light go out, to see his fighting spirit evaporate before my eyes, I was gutted for him.

I was blessed in that moment to be watching the match next to the parents of our son's opponent and friend. Such is their warmth and genuineness that I allowed myself to quietly express my concern for our son. How could I help him find a way to continue to give his best effort in all arenas of life, especially when he feels physically and emotionally overwhelmed?

Having experienced the same concern for their son in previous competitions, I was comforted by their empathy. One particular thought that deeply resonated within was this:

"You never know what someone has to struggle through to get them to where they are going."

It was a powerful reminder that sometimes, we don't need to counsel our loved ones; the best we can do for them is to be by their side as a quiet, loving presence. After all, where there is enough love, who among us cannot get to where we are going?

When we see our loved ones in pain, when we are acutely aware of something they are struggling with, for many of us, the instinctive response is to offer the right blend of encouragement and advice to help them get over their pain by nightfall.

Through the example of their own behaviour with their son, my friends helped me realize that my son doesn't need me to remind him about giving his best effort until the final ball is played - intellectually, he already knows that this is the ideal approach. What he needs most after any match and especially after those in which he struggles mightily is to know that his father feels every bit of his exhaustion and frustration and loves him the same, all without saying anything.

So that's what I did. I felt spiritually renewed and empowered as a father, and I would guess that during the drive home, our son could feel the magnitude of my love for him, as imperfect as it can be at times.

With this post, I give thanks to my friends for their deep well of compassion - how extraordinary that they were able to offer such empathy while they were vigilantly watching over and rooting for their son to have a positive experience. I have no doubt that the heart of this experience will be at the forefront of my memories long after our children's years in junior tennis are over.

Less counsel. More love. Thanks be to all those who put love first.


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Thank you for sharing this Dr. Kim. My daughter has had a chronic illness for the past year. I have recently realized that I need to change my approach to giving her support As her mother I saw everything as "critical" and reacted in that fashion since the start of her illness. This mindset is no longer needed or helpful to me or her. We seemed to have been stuck in that mindset as we worked through all the drs and diagnostic process. I am burned out and she has unrealistic expectations of me and what I can do. I have been earnestly prayerful in how to be a better support. I started just listening without offering advice and trying to "fix" as all mothers want to do when a child is in pain. The rough patches are a little better. Your post has just confirmed the more "being than doing " dynamic with my daughter to be my approach in this stage. From this place, we can better serve one another. Thank you for sharing these words of wisdom!

Thank you so much for sharing, Holly. Such a valuable awakening.

I really love this... thank you for sharing.