This week I did something pretty out of the ordinary.
I played sports. Frisbee. Ultimate Frisbee. My husband has a friend from college that gets a group together once a week to play the competitive frisbee game. James has tried and tried to get me to come play with him and last week, I finally ran out of excuses and other plans and went to play with him. I got sweaty, I ran, and I even caught and threw the frisbee a few times. The people that play all know one another in one shape or form, but they were welcoming to me nonetheless.
About halfway through our play time a sweat-drenched guy showed up on the sidelines with a backpack and cleats in his hand. He stood there for about 5 minutes or so before someone besides me (the newbie) noticed him. It was finally James, of course, the seer of all people, who noticed him. The guy boldly and bravely asked if he could jump in and play and my heart burst into about a thousand pieces. Call it empathy, call it being a female who is way too connected to her emotions, call it what you will. But it took an extraordinary amount of courage to ask to join in on a game of 14 people who all seemed to know each other, probably from his perspective, since childhood. My heart is aching right now just thinking about Sam and his blue shirt and his cleats, because I know how that feels. To stand on the edge of something, to watch as others find relational success, to know that you’re on the outside, but that you want so desperately to be on the inside. You want to participate. You want to be a part of the team. You want to be accepted onto the playing field…
As it turned out, both teams were even so we didn’t technically need anyone, but what Sam provided was an opportunity for members of our team to sub out if they needed a break. Sam’s boldness, courage, and bravery allowed someone else to rest. Can we all just let that settle in? By Sam boldly and vulnerably stepping out and asking to be a part of the game, a member of my team, who was struggling with a hurt ankle but kept playing anyway, was able to get a moment of rest and a chance to catch his breath. All because of someone else’s vulnerability.
I think Sam make my heart ache, because I am Sam. I have been there, on the sidelines, waiting for someone to notice me and invite me in. I’ve watched from the outside, waiting to be included, with my cleats in my hand, ready to contribute something, anything, to their lives. And I had to take the step to speak up. I had to take the chance of being bold and vulnerable. I had to speak first. My heart went out to Sam because I know that fear. I know the fear of stepping out into something that’s already functioning – friendships, small groups, communities – and not knowing what the response is going to be. We could have easily told Sam he wasn’t needed, that he wasn’t invited. We could have explained that our teams were matched and we didn’t need an extra player. And he probably would have turned and walked back to his car, probably feeling dejected and unwanted, running through a million reasons in his head of why he didn’t appear good enough. But James, my sweet James, called him in and put him on our team. We all got breaks for water and a breath, as he subbed in the game for us. Not only did he provide some respite, but he killed the game. He scored goals and completed passes like it was child’s play. He had something to offer.
Sometimes we’ve got to be Sam.
You might be standing on the outside, watching a community thrive without you, thinking of a million reasons why you don’t add up, making up a thousand excuses about why you should stay on the sidelines. And I’m telling you to be Sam. Step out. Ask someone to lunch or coffee or a movie or a shopping date. Step out in boldness because you have something to offer, regardless of what you think of yourself. You can offer respite, whether you realize it or not. Whether its a breath of fresh air, or a shared story or shade, by being vulnerable. Vulnerability is a beautiful contagion. Being vulnerable shows others that you consider them as safe, trustworthy, and reliable. Vulnerability invites vulnerability. Authentic community cannot exist outside of it.
Sometimes we’ve got to invite Sam.
I want to challenge you to see people. Really see them. Look for their heart and their longings. Don’t think that someone else will see, because sometimes it has to be you. Don’t expect someone else to reach out to Sam, sometimes God has uniquely called you to call him or her out from the sidelines. Invite them, see them, know them, call them out and help people be seen and known. You had to be invited at some point. Now it’s your turn.
Here’s how living like Sam has played out for me: I’m currently on a heart monitor for 4 weeks, trying to detect an arrhythmia. It’s all wires and stickers and a pager-looking battery pack. It’s cumbersome and I’ve been trying very very hard to hide it. Because technology is the coolest, the heart monitor comes with a cell phone that constantly sends my heart reading to a computer somewhere in the cloud. If I get too far away from the transmitter/cell phone the heart monitor beeps. The last thing I wanted to do was bring attention to it. So, when I was at a cookout with friends a few weeks ago and I started beeping under my shirt and ran into the house to grab the cellphone that was conveniently beeping as well, attention was brought to the subject. Through a beet-red face, I explained the situation, trying to minimize it as best I could. I didn’t want anyone to know about it, let alone care. The people sitting around the table listened intently as I explained the diagnosis the doctors were trying to find and all were sympathetic, but moved on quickly, to my relief.
It wasn’t until I got home later that night, that community became real. I received a text from a friend that I hadn’t considered as very close… and she was explaining that she was glad my heart monitor started beeping, and she was glad that she found out about it. She had been wanting to find more ways to intentionally pray for her community and she was going to pray for my heart and the doctors and the diagnosis’s and suddenly I realized I had put myself on the sidelines. Making a million excuses why no one would care or notice that I was in the middle of a heart test. She pulled me from the sidelines and I thanked her for letting me be vulnerable. She offered me the chance to feel known and cared for, and provided me with a sense that I belonged in her life.
We all have something to offer if we just step into the chance of being a part of a community, and community has so much to offer us, if we provide others with the chance to be seen and known. Let’s just remember Sam, with his cleats in his hand and an eagerness to contribute.