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You Can't Get Away with That!

It has been such a delight to watch my son play hockey over the years. He is a talented center and a force to be reckoned with, all the while one of the smallest in height and size. He has some natural abilities as well as strong hockey skills because he has been quite coachable. One bad habit that was hard to break was retaliating when he felt the players on the opposing team were unjust.

The Oxford Languages dictionary definition of retaliate is to make an attack or assault in return for a similar attack; ‘return in kind.’ Or one may refer to it as returning evil for evil. Someone does me wrong, I do wrong back.

We were trying to instill in him that retaliating rarely pays off and typically causes more harm than good. We would explain that he should let the referees do their job and trust the calls the way they see fit. Then, your job is to keep your eyes on the current play rather than taking matters into your own hands.

Easy said, done hard.

My son’s “justified” punches or shoves typically sent him to the penalty box for a minute and a half as his team played with one less player. All the while the opponent’s penalty-worthy behavior often went unnoticed, and he continued to play along with his full line. Worse yet, was when the opposing team scored while my son was in the penalty box. One season, he led his team in penalties which meant he sat out rather than positively contributing to the team with his talents (insert cringe face here).

I remember like it was yesterday, driving home from one of his games and I was tossing around images of his bad habit throughout my mind and then…


The thoughts of retaliation boomeranged and hit me right between the eyes. It was a quick self-reflective snidbit which revealed to me how I earned a few penalties of my own. Not like my son in hockey –– with physical retaliations –– but verbal (and even emotional) strikes to fight back as I perceived the other person was throwing verbal and emotional punches.

I had been dealing with a tough situation where I was allowing my self-protective emotions to take the lead and “return in kind” rather than pausing, thinking, and then responding appropriately. The mounting tension made it harder to withhold my righteous counterattack.

In sports and in life, we often retaliate for one of two reasons: one, we don’t want that person to get away with such behavior, and the other is out of self-protection. We must believe that we are the only ones who can protect ourselves.

Back to hockey for a moment, when my son allows either of these two reasons to control him, he is ultimately believing that his identity (who he is) is being attacked rather than simply the player (what he is doing). Otherwise, he would be more likely to let it roll off his back. In other words, if he felt like that his being was unsafe (physically or emotionally) he will defend himself by returning evil for evil.

If my son, as a player, thinks he is “safe,” then he can release control and leave space for the referee do his job. Which then allows him to focus on the play at hand. Most often hearing the relief of a whistle, as the ref signals which penalty he is calling. Then my son gets to watch the opposing team’s player head to the penalty box.

I have had plenty of practice taking things personally and retaliating to defend myself. Often left with the feelings of embarrassment, guilt or shame and lack of control.

I have also been strengthening the skill of responding simply by keeping my mouth closed and leaving space for God (the greatest referee) to do His work. With patience and restraint, I noticed that God is just and timely. Often grateful I kept my mouth filled with grace (wink), because I also realized the situation may not have been completely what I thought.

When my soul wants to retaliate, instead I need to pause and step into alignment with a loving truth that is far greater than the way I see things. I want to be empowered by a higher, divine source not by my own mind, will and emotions.

As we live with more intention and self-awareness, the less we react and the more we can respond; leaving us feeling like we have a super-power. Everyone has the capability to withhold and not mindlessly retaliate. We just need to believe in the Source that provides such restraint. Again, often watching God do a mighty work in the other person as well.

With all that said, I don’t take on unnecessary shame for my past actions. Instead, time is better spent reflecting, apologizing, and having my heart postured to trying better next time. Cuz…there will be a next time (wink).

I'd love to connect with you:

Did anything resonate with you while reading about retaliation?

Do you believe that God sees everything and is just and His timing is better than ours?

How is retaliation different than responding?

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