Benches and Bleachers
By Erica Boutwell on July 24, 2018
For most people who know me very well, it’s no surprise to learn that I graduated from college with a BA in Religion. What might come as a shock though is the fact that my minor was in Recreation. See, I’m not exactly what you would call the athletic or sporty type. You probably won’t catch me running much unless someone with a weapon is chasing me or one of my children has run out into the street. And while I can host a killer Super Bowl party, chances are, I have no idea who is playing because I just want to see the half-time show. It just so happened that a Recreation minor would get me done with school the fastest, so I went with it. With all that said, something has been brewing on my heart for some time now, and the image that pops into my mind every time I think about it is, of all things, sports related, and it revolves around the idea of benches and bleachers.
We’ve all been there, probably more than once, and we’ll all be there again. Sidelined . . . pulled . . . a spectator at the game(s) we wish we were playing in. Sometimes it’s by choice and other times it’s by force, but either way, it’s an opportunity for real growth and understanding if handled well. I wish I could say I’ve always processed these seasons like a champ, but no can do. However, I have learned some solid lessons along the way.
There are two kinds of spectators at a sporting event. There are those on the bench and those in the bleachers. The first group is made up of team members not currently playing on the field whether it’s because they’re just waiting their turn, recovering from an injury, too green to actually play, or made to sit out because of poor behavior. But, they are still team members. They have actual skin in the game, which means they bear part of the weight of the mantle of their team winning or losing. The latter is made up of those cheering on one of the competing teams. It’s family members, friends, mentors, and admirers supporting their loved ones. There are similarities between these two groups of people, but there are drastic differences that are worth exploring because they can be a game changer for you as you process through your seasons as a spectator. Once I realized the differences, a new level of peace settled into my heart that carried me through my own similar season.
A little backstory . . . Upon my family’s move to the Nashville area at the very end of 2016, I was met with my first spectator season in over 12 years. I went from leading worship on a weekly basis to not being behind a microphone for over 9 months. During that time, multiple opportunities presented themselves to embed myself into some different ministry opportunities. Each of them was different from one another, but each of them also would allow me to utilize my unique gifts well. I began exploring, networking, and building relationships while praying for clarity as to where the Lord wanted me to focus my energies and efforts. Over a few months, it started to become clearer and clearer where my gifts were more effective and where they were not. I had assumed that reaching this point would be followed by relief, but instead I was confronted with an unexpected confusion and disappointment because the places I was being met with the most resistance were the places I thought were the obvious matches. I began praying specifically for understanding and that’s when the Lord began showing me these visions of benches and bleachers. I was trying to force myself into a game that I wasn’t supposed to be playing. Instead, the Lord wanted me in the bleachers cheering on that particular ministry so that He could use me in another game that needed my specific giftings more.
Once I wrapped my heart and mind around this idea, those feelings of rejection and failure began to disappear and a deeper level of comfort began to settle in. Soon after, doors began opening for me to serve elsewhere effectively and wholeheartedly, all while still being able to joyfully and authentically root for those other ministries to thrive.
Can any of you relate? Perhaps you’re in the middle of a similar season now, where you’ve been pulled out of a game you were comfortable in. Maybe you’re transitioning from vocational worship ministry at a local church to a broader form of ministry. Maybe a ministry you were heavily invested in is moving in a different direction and you’re not sure where you fit into it all. Whatever it is, you’ve found yourself no longer playing an active role in it and you’re not sure where to go from here.
This is where scriptures that we’ve been quoting since 1st grade become alive and active in a new way.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. - Proverbs 3:5-6
In times like this, we have to learn to press harder into the Father heart of God, trust that He has a perfect plan, and resist the urge to try and understand things from our temporal perspectives. Instead, refocus your prayers and searching on things such as….
Do you feel confident that this is still the game you’re supposed to be in, whether now or in the future?
If so, is there any reason that the Lord might have moved from the field to the bench? A secret sin? Burnout? A hurt that is keeping you from being effective? Perhaps just to rest?
If not, what could He possibly be moving you toward? Is there another ministry opportunity in your peripheral that you could invest in? Is there a new gift that He’s been fostering in you to use somewhere else?
This obviously is not an exhaustive list, rather just a place to start. Nevertheless, times of restlessness are rarely for no reason. Usually the Lord is at work, doing something that He’s not quite ready to reveal yet. The best thing we can do in those seasons is keep asking for His direction for the next step, resting in His peace as we continue moving forward, and believing for His best as we pursue His heart and will.
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