I have, for several years now, taught a Sunday School class that goes by the appellation "The Most Unusual Sunday School Class in America". It is full of, in its current incarnation, somewhere between 10 and 15 boys between the ages of 10 to 13, and in our class, there is no telling what may get covered. We hold these 'what Does the Bible Say About.." sessions where nothing is off limits and their intrepid teacher will try his best to give a Bible answer on anything from girls to guns. I tell my boys that if they pay attention they will come out of my class with a Bible knowledge to match almost any Bible degree holder from any school in the country.
We have contests from time to time, and I've noticed that the one or two studious kids usually win these contests, which is hardly surprising. When we have contests as teams, the one or two studious kids will drag their team across the finish line, which again is hardly surprising. I am always playing with the group dynamics to try to motivate the unmotivated, and the latest contest has a twist. Points are awarded for various activities ( Scripture memorization, bringing your Bible, sword drills, etc), but unless everybody on your team participates you get no points. This puts the studious kids in the unenviable position of motivating their teammates. If 5 kids on the team memorize the assigned verse, and the 6th kid doesn't, no points for anyone.
This is all good and well, but my oldest son is in this class, and he isn't unmotivated per se, he's just terrified of failure. He is shy to the point of paralysis, and tends to worry himself sick about things that really aren't worth worrying about. He approached me and wanted to quit the team. I told him he wasn't allowed to quit. He said he didn't want to let everyone down. I said "Then don't".
I understand, from a big picture perspective that all he needs is a little success, and he will find it suits him, but he has to get there first. The 'never say die' attitude comes easily to me, but not to him. He has had successes in his life since he is blindingly intelligent, but the notion of other people's fates resting on his efforts paralyzes him. In truth, I can't 'make' him perform. He is fully capable of doing the work, and equally capable of convincing himself that it's not worth the risk of looking foolish.
I must admit that I am at a bit of a loss on how to help him. All his life he has heard from me to never quit, never surrender. All of his life I have told him that he should fight till he drops and then be fully rested by the time he hits the floor. All of his life I have quoted Winston Churchhill and Rocky Balboa. Yet here we are, with a task that seems, to him at least, insurmountable, and he would rather not try than fail.
Here's the dirty little secret about his dad; I'm not particularly good at anything. I can't run very fast or jump very high. I am quite average looking and have a flaky memory. I have no ear for music, and a pretty horrific speaking voice. Nothing comes easy for me, and naturally talented people make me a little sick. But what I will do is take my lack of ability and bury you with my effort.
I am trying to avoid the trap of pride in making this some sort of personal issue. I don't want to push him that much harder because he's 'my' son. I am trying to give him the exact same advice that I would give any of the other kids. Don't give up. People are counting on you. Do the work. It's better to try something and fail than to try nothing and succeed. Don't just lay there and bleed, get up and fight! Someday he'll need that mindset. Someday the stakes will be much higher than they are now.
So like I said, I don't know what to do. Do you?