I spent a lot of time playing sport when I was younger and loved nothing more than being an active participant on a team. While I loved winning, for me that was not nearly as important as the feeling I got when I knew I had played well and been an asset to my team. What I didn’t enjoy however, were the times when I had to take my turn at sitting on the sideline and watching my team mates play. Looking on from the bench or the sideline was frustrating for me and I longed to be out there amongst the action and making a difference. Whether it was soccer, touch football, water polo or basketball, my favourite games – win, lose or draw, were the ones where I didn’t get subbed off and the coach entrusted me to play for the whole time. Conversely, the games that stand out in my mind as being the most ungratifying, were those when I got injured and was forced to sit and watch as my team mates finished the game without me.
Even though I don’t play team sports very often at this stage of my life, ironically I have found myself sidelined yet again this year. My zeal for the active life when I was younger has unfortunately left me with chronic injuries in both my ankles requiring reconstructive surgery, and as I write this, I am currently on leave, recovering from my second operation this year. So, while for everyone else life continues as normal, I have found myself sitting to the side, watching and listening to all the activity and noise that is going on around me without the capacity to engage or contribute to the level that I would like to.
Being a lot older and hopefully a little bit wiser than I was in my youth I am learning to take advantage of these “sideline” moments rather than resent them. Instead of allowing myself to become frustrated by the things that I am unable to do – and there are many, I am making the effort to consciously look for opportunities to make the best of my temporary circumstance. For example, I have had so many meaningful conversations with friends and family who have visited me over the last few weeks. Most of these are interactions that my normally hectic schedule would not afford me. This time on the sideline has also taught me how to graciously receive from others by allowing them to do things for me that I have been unable to do for myself. I have been both blessed and humbled by the care and practical support demonstrated to me this year from so many people and experienced first-hand what it really means to be part of a caring Christian community.
As well as this, I have appreciated that there are advantages to viewing life from the sideline. After all, that’s where all the coaches of sporting teams position themselves during the game, right? From the sideline you can see all the action as it unfolds before you but being removed from it not only gives a clearer and more complete perspective but it also brings the ability to view issues while disconnected from the emotion and tension that players experience in the heat of play. While I have not been coaching any sporting teams during my recovery I have certainly found that having this timeout from the busyness of my regular schedule has given me the time and space to assess and deal with issues that I have been grappling with in my life with much greater objectivity and wisdom.
While I am certainly not advocating taking up permanent residence on the sidelines of life, I am learning firsthand what the Apostle Paul means when he talks about the importance of being content no matter what situation we find ourselves in. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes these words from the sidelines of a Roman prison cell; “For I have learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with… plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13). As a Christian it is both comforting and empowering to know that whether we find ourselves in the thick of complex life issues or like me sitting on sidelines of life for a while, that God is not only with us, but if we allow Him to do so He will bring purpose and contentment to us right where we are.