I've spent a lot of time in my life sitting on the sidelines.
In junior high and high school, I considered myself an athlete. I was on basketball, soccer and football teams. But I sat on the bench. I lacked the shooting touch for basketball and the killer instinct for football. My soccer career stalled because I couldn't climb the chain link fence our team needed to climb to get to our practice field ... long story.
So I sat on the sidelines.
I hate the sidelines.
The sidelines felt like the place where people went when they were broken or weak or exhausted. I wanted to get into the game, any game. I didn't want to be broken, weak or exhausted.
But over time, I discovered that sidelines are not scrap heaps. Players go to the sidelines to recover when they're exhausted. They sit on the sidelines until they're strong or skilled enough to make a contribution on the field. On the sidelines, broken players get patched up, stitched and healed. Sidelines are a place of healing, growth and transformation. Learning this didn't stop me from hating sitting on the sidelines, but it helped. And over time, I learned something else.
You can make a contribution from the sidelines.
A player on the sidelines is still on the team. They can cheer, encourage, grab water, high five and pray. They celebrate when the team wins, even if they never left the sidelines. They weep when the team loses, even if they only watched the loss from a distance. Blessed is the team that has a fully engaged player on the sidelines. And that is what I was. That is what I am.
We all spend time on the sidelines.
Life is full of sideline experiences: your career sprains an ankle, your parenting exhausts you, your education has you in a place where you're learning instead of playing. Right now, you may be standing right on the edge of the court/field/pitch, watching everyone else play. "Put me in, coach!" you might call out. And your day may come. But in the meantime, you have a decision to make.
Right now, I'm on sabbatical with InterVarsity. I've been working hard in the field for a decade. I know what it's like to be broken, weak and exhausted. And now I feel like I'm sitting on the sidelines. It's hard. I hate it. But I'm grateful for it. The game I play is important and I want to be on the court/field/pitch. But right now, I'm on the sidelines. And I have a decision to make.
What will you do with your time on the sidelines?
Don't waste it. Cheer, encourage, grab water, high five and pray. Be on the team, even if you're sitting on the sidelines. Get healthy. Get ready. Recover. Don't waste your season on the sidelines.
In God's kingdom, everyone plays. And one day, we will rush the court, tear down the goalposts and run around the pitch with our arms out like planes or birds or European soccer players celebrating a big win. I'm saying this to myself. Every day.
God, use the sidelines.