The ultimate participation trophy

January 4th, 2017

I feel myself getting increasingly irked by the use of the phrase, “participation trophy generation.”

At first I thought I was just annoyed with the hypocrisy of it — that they very people who pejoratively refer to the participation trophy generation were the ones who originally handed out those participation trophies. We didn’t, after all, hand them to ourselves.

Then I thought my frustration was rooted in a different angle on the hypocrisy of it — the fact that any form of privilege is a participation trophy.

  • Did you inherit money from a deceased love one that you didn’t earn? Participation trophy. 
  • Did someone give you your first car simply because you shared DNA with them? Participation trophy. 
  • Do you have any number of untold benefits from your sex, your skin color, your parents’ economic class? Participation trophy. 

While I think these examples of hypocrisy certainly get at some of my frustration, I realized recently that my impatience with the phrase and those who use it is actually theological.

Let me say this as clearly as possible: Grace is the ultimate participation trophy.

Grace is God saying, “Hey, you. You messed this up. You came in last place. You screwed up your life and other people’s lives. You finished last. You didn’t win.” Then, he bends down, picks you up off the ground, dusts off your clothes, spit-shines your face, bandages your wounds, and says, “Fortunately, I don’t keep score. Your wins don’t impress me and your losses don’t make me love you any less. Here is grace. Here is a trophy. I give you my Son. You didn’t earn him. You didn’t deserve him. But I give him to you.”

We are invited to participate in the victory of God over sin, hatred, injustice, idolatry and death. On our own such a victory could not be won by us. But we participate in his victory. Our trophies are his trophies. That’s why we’ll lay them down at his feet. Maybe that’s why participation trophies are worthwhile: We teach kids that God gives us what don’t deserve, earn, or win. Grace is the ultimate participation trophy.

Tom Fuerst blogs at He is the author of Underdogs and Outsiders from Abingdon Press. You can subscribe to his blog via email here.

comments powered by Disqus