It is said that a man will die for his wife. It is also said that he will kill for his children.

As fathers, our instinct is to provide strength and grace for our children—to guide them, to speak up for them, to speak truth to others on their behalf, and to make things right when something goes wrong. These fathers are usually the first to step in for their child when they see some sort of injustice. I am so grateful for the chances to stand up for my daughters, but what gives me the greatest joy is to see my girls stand up for themselves. In those moments, neither I nor my wife can claim any credit, except that by God’s grace, we pointed them to Jesus, and their courage took over.  

I am a father of two wonderful girls, Madelyn and Ainsley, who are eleven and nine years old. They love Jesus and are growing up in a confusing world that tells them so many things about who or what to be. My wife and I have tried our best to encourage them to try new things, work hard, and recognize that their value is from God, not from what others think. This has been our plan, but occasionally this plan takes us in an unexpected direction.

Not long ago, Ainsley was playing goalkeeper in a 9-on-9 scrimmage, moving to a larger field with more players than the 7-on-7 they had been playing for years. In the game of soccer and strategy, this is a huge change for the goalkeeper.

The goal of a scrimmage is to learn, and the coach would stop play occasionally to point out issues and make changes to adapt. In the first half, Ainsley indicated to me on the sideline that she didn’t know what to do. I told her to tell her coach, but with the game going on, it was difficult to get the coach’s attention. At halftime, I walked over and talked to the coach to let her know that Ainsley wasn’t understanding the best way to play or where her defenders were supposed to be positioned to safely get them the ball. The coach seemed to understand and talked to Ainsley.

The second half went on, yet the confusion continued. It all crashed to a halt when a girl on the other team kicked a ball point-blank into Ainsley’s face. There was an audible “ouch” from the other parents on the sideline. In tears, Ainsley held her goalkeeper gloves over her face.

I was the first one to rush the field to care for Ainsley. As the coach met us, rage took over me. I stood up and got in the coach’s face about not helping Ainsley out and not coaching her to make this a teachable time This was completely out of character for me, but I felt like Ainsley was vulnerable, getting hit in the face because of the coach’s lack of direction.

While I was almost yelling with the coach, Ainsley was starting to feel better. I was ready to pull her out of the game, but I stopped when Ainsley tugged on my shoulder and said she would be okay but wanted to sit on the sideline. The coach was confused by my reaction and asked, “Can we talk about this after the game, not in the middle of the field?” I agreed, and the game finished fifteen minutes later.

After the game finished, Ainsley pulled me aside and said, “Dad, you were harsh. You need to apologize to Coach for the way you acted.”

Gulp.

Nine-year-old Ainsley Schroeder put me in my place.

Ainsley valued harmony and forgiveness over my proud reaction. Her heart was full of grace and love while my heart was full of rage. After she asked me to apologize to the coach, I did so, and we had a good talk about what happened and how to help each other more in the future for Ainsley’s sake.

I still think I did the right thing to react to stand up for Ainsley and protect her. But how I did that was wrong: I acted like an idiot in my rage. The coach did not deserve my wrath; she deserved my partnership, and that happens through good conversation with the shared goal of helping Ainsley.

I am so grateful for how Ainsley stopped me that day. Over the past nine years, Brooke and I have been focusing on showing Ainsley what it means to love others. In Ainsley’s empathetic heart, I can see that God has been helping her learn those lessons.

Loving others begins with what Jesus teaches us. That day I seemed to have forgotten this beautiful advice in Scripture:

“Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.” 1 John 4:10-11 CSB

As parents, we are called to raise our children in grace and wisdom. It takes a lot of time and patience, and we won’t do it perfectly. Parenting doesn’t always happen the way we expect. For me, on that day on the soccer field, the grace I seek to show in parenting showed up in the voice of my child.