These days I seem to have more than a few friends sitting on the bench behind the fence rather than out on life's playing field.
Some are sidelined due to illness, surgery, or are going through chemo. Age eventually sidelines many of us. Some are retired voluntarily, some have lost their position to younger people. Some find themselves in assisted living residences away from their accustomed surroundings. Some are sidelined with grief and loss through bereavement or divorce or other broken relationships. Others are out of the work force because of the economy slump.
Why are we so surprised when life seems to go right on without us? Somehow we don't expect the sun to keep shining brightly and days to go on so normally. Secretly we may not want people to manage well without our involvement. How can people walk so capably in our shoes the minute we take them off? Being sidelined is often a blow to our identity. We are not sure who we are anymore if we have spent a lifetime been known solely by our role, our job, or position in life.
Apparently many of us in our advanced years have viewed ourselves as the center of our particular universe, the hub of our family's wheel, the indispensable one at work or church. People have flattered us by reinforcing our essential image. “I don't know how we can ever do without you. No one can take your place.” Famous last words. Did we believe them?
Most of us need to confess that we think the indispensable mask does look attractive on us. In a sense we thrive on our self-importance. To have our mask removed by being laid aside in some way, retired, or removed from our accustomed position of prominence strips a veneer from us that actually was unbecoming. Surprisingly, the consequences of its removal may be beneficial. There may be collateral benefits from our bench warming.
The Scriptures caution us not to hold an exaggerated or puffed up opinion of ourselves. Puffiness indicates ill health physically as well as spiritually. It's a costly ego trip we can't afford to take. “Be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value by how much faith God has given you. Just as there are many parts to our bodies, so it is with Christ's body. We are all parts of it, and it takes every one of us to make it complete, for we each have different work to do. So we belong to each other, and each needs all the others” (Romans 12:3 TLB).
Having to sit on the sidelines for whatever reason while someone else stars in the game in which we played so well deflates our exaggerated self. God doesn't want to take away our self-esteem, simply to help us see ourselves realistically. Sitting on the bench shows us that we can't be the leading player forever and that everything won't fall apart if we aren't there. If people continue to depend on our performance in any aspect of life, it may stunt their emotional, mental, and surely spiritual growth.
We should look at ourselves as dispensable. The places we occupied so well seem to close up behind us as they are capably filled by others. We are all frail, mortal, and terminal in the sense of not being able to play any role in life permanently. Each of us is God's special instrument or channel, unique and important to the Lord, but not indispensable. He can either work through us or through someone else. That is a hard but valuable lesson to be learned while bench warming.
We may not be sidelined permanently by The Divine Coach. We should concentrate on keeping in good shape spiritually and being available to the Lord. He'll decide our position on His Body Team and call us when He needs us. If not on the field, perhaps among others bench warmers in the dugout.
Meanwhile, from our position on the bench let's cheer every Body Team member out on the field doing a great job and not be jealous because they are wearing our uniform, helmet, and number.
Who am I to think that I'm the hub
around which the world turns
and all spokes lead to me?
God is not obliged to work
through my earthen vessel
my created lump of clay
with numbered days and faltering ways.
Without me, Lord, life would go right on
The world would still turn
and You could run the universe.
Without me, Lord, those who lean on my arm
could walk by themselves
and be kept from harm.
Yet I am amazed that You stoop to choose
and sovereignly use
this human trifle that I am
as an instrument to do Your will!
Lord, cause me to understand
and in humility
still offer You my availability.