Sitting on the Sidelines

When God temporarily takes us “out of the game,” where do we go to find our identity?

From Message magazine issue "Christ in the Crisis"

Three of our five children play soccer for their local school in Tanzania, and every new season we have the same conversation with them.

It goes something like:

“If the coach chooses to put you on the sidelines, you need to respect his decision, even if you don’t agree or if you still want to play. Don’t pout. Be a good sport. Be the best sideline teammate you can be. Cheer for the people who are still playing, but also prepare yourself to get back in the game when your coach decides that it’s time.”

During quarantine and social distancing, it feels like God is giving me this same pep talk.

Sometimes, despite our best attempts to stay in the game, we are temporarily pulled out. Like my children, I long to be on the field with my friends, my team, my people. But here I am at a social distance from them. I need divine strength to pray, “May your will be done.” I need to learn how to obey God’s mission for me even when it is different from what I thought—or want.

Being pulled off the field gnaws at our souls, but God has a way of reminding us that he is at work even when we aren’t. Father, forgive our pride!

We have a choice. We can pout that other players are still in the game, complaining about leaders, governments, and God. We can feel desperate and bitter, fixating on what the crowd—our friends, families, supporters, and churches—are thinking as they watch, judge, and question us for sitting on the sidelines of ministry.

Or we can choose faith. This choice isn’t easy; it’s a daily, hourly, moment-by-moment decision. But we must use our time on the sidelines to prepare to get back in the game.

Let us learn to wait on God.

Let us intensely and intentionally abide in Christ.

Let us be good teammates by becoming more dependent on God and more spiritually fit than before.

Let us forget the crowd and repent of how good it felt to be praised by them in the first place.

Let us recall past seasons of activity and consider whose strength we were truly relying on.

Let us repent of our pride and how often we are fueled by human approval rather than an awe of the God who enables us.

Let us worship our Father in spirit and in truth, not worshipping at the shrine of idols of our own control or performance.

And let us try to fix the mistakes we were making in the game.

Were we lazy teammates, coasting by on past victories? Out of spiritual shape? Were we angry teammates, criticizing the other players? Were we judgmental or rude when others had different strategies? Could we rejoice in the accomplishments of teammates? Were we leaving others behind in our selfish ambitions? Were we running ragged rather than pacing ourselves at a healthy stride for the long term?

This is a time of introspection, repentance, and perhaps reconciliation with others. Only when this is done, may we return to the game healed and ready for battle.

God wants our hearts. This season of soul work is just as critical to our mission as any “work” we did before or any “work” we will do after.

Stephanie Boon

Stephanie Boon is an ABWE missionary who lives in Tanzania with her husband and their five children.  She co-founded Sifa Collective, which equips women with the hope of the gospel and tools to launch their own local businesses. After earning her M.A. in Counseling and B.S. in Counseling (Theology/Psychology), she worked with colleagues to open a Community Counseling Center in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania where they provide gospel-centered individual and group counseling, and counseling training for local churches. Read her blog at Things We Didn't Know or support her ministry.