Tae Kwon Do starts tonight.
For my middle kid this is the utmost in excitement. It means all the weeks of practicing ninja moves on his sister and doing practice roundhouse kicks in the grocery line are all going to pay off.
Because tonight is the night.
In chatting with him and saying how much he’s going to love it, he looks at me with certainty and says ‘Well, if I can’t do it after a couple of times, I’ll just quit.’
This was a funny statement coming from this kid. He’s the most agile child I know. He has a 6 pack. At age 7. He’s going to be fine.
Me, his participating mom, not so fine.
But it got me thinking of how we approach things, the idea that we need to be stars immediately.
This was not my sporting experience. I began playing on my Junior High basketball team when I was in grade 5. I was tall, I was determined.
And I was a bench sitter.
There were kids who weren’t as tall but they were faster, and they were as tall and they were better shots than me. So I spent time on the bench. In Junior High there is this sense of fair play where everyone gets to play, provided you’re trouncing the other team with enough margin that whatever you do doesn’t matter because you can’t lose anyway.
Fastforward to High School. With 4 years under my belt and playing with the same group of girls as Junior High, I still spent time on the bench. I didn’t go to a school where it was all about participation. Winning was important.
I wasn’t the star, but I was a hard worker. And I was a team player.
I hear stories of people, young and old, who aren’t willing to be bench sitters.
It’s not worth their time, they don’t deserve to be benched, where they played before they were the star and now you want to bench me?
I’m not saying the bench is fun. It’s not fun knowing that you’re dressed, warmed up and ready to go, and your job is to cheer and be a nice enough person that you don’t wish an injury on the player ahead of you.
But bench warming taught me something.
It taught me that it wasn’t about me.
It taught me that you stick with something because you are part of something bigger than yourself.
It taught me that the work that you put in proves something to other people, your tenacity is a sign of your character rather than your stardom.
Being in the middle of the pack showed me that when you love something more than you love your ego, you’re willing to have other people see you sitting on the bench and waiting for your turn.
I find this aversion to bench sitting happens in church. People want to be front and center, want the stage and the accolades, want to be noticed for their skill and their ability.
They want to run with the spiritual big dogs.
And when they don’t, they quit.
I’ve known people who, when they were told they couldn’t be part of the worship team because their musical ability was non-existent, just stop trying. Because they wanted what they want and didn’t want to hear no.
I’ve seen people chafe at being led because they want to be the leader, even when they aren’t ready or skilled, aren’t able to lead with the kindness and humility that is required of us by Christ.
And I’ve been someone who wanted to be in a ministry place that I wasn’t prepared for, either in maturity or knowledge. But, oh, how I wanted it.
I’ve been spiritually benched. I’ve had times when God has said to me ‘not for you, not yet’.
And it sucked. I felt ready, I wanted that experience, but I wasn’t ready.
Looking back on my times being benched, spiritually and otherwise, I realize that it was one of my greatest learning experiences.
It taught me to check my motives. Did I want to be the star and have the fans, or was I doing this to further something bigger than me? If we say no to serving others, to being part of what God is doing in church just because we’re not serving in the way we think we deserve, we are missing out on a sense of mission, community, and purpose that is so very very good for our souls. It’s good for it not to be about us.
It taught me that my skills needed to be developed. Just because you’re benched doesn’t mean you’re not practicing, and training, and learning. Some of my best learning experiences have been when I was in the background, in a supporting role.
It taught me that it’s up to the coach to determine when I’m ready. When I look at ministry opportunities I wanted so much, I realize that the no from God showed his great foresight and wisdom. I wasn’t ready, or the situation wasn’t right, but I couldn’t see it until later.
So I’ve learned not to give up when I’m on the bench. Watching, waiting, training, striving, supporting, all of these traits have developed me into a better person. It’s taught me that my view of myself needs input, I need to let God be in charge of me and what I do. I needed to learn how to be a follower before I could be a leader.
I needed the experience of the bench to get better.