"You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him;
you are only a boy, and he has been a fighting man from his youth."
1 Samuel 17:33
Once upon a time, my life contained elements of the song "Second String" by Wes King, the chorus of which goes:
What it feels like
To be second string.
What it feels like
To just sit on the bench
And watch your friends play
And wonder why you're even on the team
I know, I know
King even includes a verse in the song about David, and how he too sat waiting on the sidelines to be given a chance to prove where his strength came from against the giant from the Philistine army.
And like I said, once upon a time, that was me -- chomping at the bit, ready for whatever, not worried whether I was good enough or ready (whatever that really means). Just waiting to do great things - big or small - for the Lord's team. Wondering when I could go off and join the intergalactic rebellion... or whether I would be involuntarily stuck, like Luke Skywalker, by forces beyond my control, tending to the Tattooine harvest for "just one more year."
Then not just one, but more than 20 years passed. Many opportunities came. My turn did arrive - several times and in several ways. I might even say that I got more than I wanted, such that somewhere along the line, somehow, my priorities unwittingly turned less towards getting in the game, and more towards recharge, me-time, unclenching... even flat-out laziness and withdrawal.
And I didn't even realize how bad it had gotten until this weekend. There I was at the first week of my son's first-grade season of YMCA soccer. He's been playing since he was three, and is quite good. Part of that is because I played the game growing up and have passed some things along to him.
This year's team didn't have a coach. Nobody had stepped up. We were being told that unless one of us parents took the reins, our kids, who had mostly asked to be placed on a team together, would all be split up and sent to different teams. That's when one of the parents spotted me helping Jordan and a couple other boys practice and said, "That guy looks like he knows what he's doing! Make him the coach."
So I became a youth soccer coach... begrudgingly.
I obviously had not come with a practice plan, but something amazing happened when I took over with those boys. Immediately my mind and body were zapped back to my days as a Christian youth camp counselor, teaching activity classes like soccer, tennis, archery... I became aware of a smile on my face under the Virginia September sun... I even forgot that I was suffering horrible abdominal cramps as a result of several days' consumption of way too much low-quality red meat. We ran drills I hadn't run since I was a junior in high school. The boys actually listened, and picked up some strategy beyond just clustering around the ball. What was going on? All I had wanted was to get through this, get back to my bathroom, and hope to forget my troubles once college football kicked off.
The next morning, Valerie and I were discussing this on our ride to church. Despite the successes of the day before, I was a bit grumpy. Feeling suckered. For whilst sitting on my rear watching said college football, I had also viewed a commercial where two moms sat chatting happily about supplemental insurance at a youth soccer game. They looked so content and unemcumbered. And the thoughts had started: "Ha! No relaxing free hour on the sidelines for you! Fool! Those other parents used you! You probably need a break more than ANY of them, and now you have to run around on the field with children... getting exercise. Exercise! BOOOOOOOO!"
I vocalized these thoughts to my wife in the car. Only this time, no sooner did I get through the word "sidelines" than I didn't require the lovingly reproachful look on Valerie's face. The bolt struck my own brain, and the lesson held.
HOW had I gotten HERE? From "put me in coach" to "why can't I sit on my rear end, too?" Wow. Conviction. Even more so for me because for one thing I have written often about how freedom and maturity aren't about building to a place where we can do whatever we want all the time. I believe that results in us becoming our own little gods. I need exercise. I love kids. I pray for God to use me (do I really mean it?). I'm good at stuff like this. And a few years before I had learned a similar lesson in a similar way -- that Christianity is a team sport. Going solo doesn't work.
Put it all together and I was really baffled at how far I had let myself go in the name of comfort, desserts, and fairness.
I'm not recommending you run out and coach youth soccer, or even suggesting that I am suddenly a very important and unselfish volunteer. It's simply the attitude paradigm re-shift I needed that I want to convey today. David -- and once upon a time, probably you -- couldn't wait to join the fight. Until this weekend, Shawn -- and perhaps you -- couldn't wait to hide from it at the end of every tiring day and exhausting week. The alarm clock went off, and I'm awake again.
Saturday I was sleepwalking, but even so, there was the energy, the qualification, and the reward, as soon as I said yes, even bedrudgingly.
Today youth soccer. Tomorrow, something grander.
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