I grew up playing basketball. For about 10 years, it was a substantial part of my life. Outside of school and church, it practically was my life. It made me stronger physically and tougher mentally. Not every aspect of the “ball life” impacted me positively, however.
In the basketball world- well, in sports in general-, it is often “admirable” to push through pain. Sure, if it’s a minor bump or bruise, we learn to “brush it off”. That’s not so bad; we learn that as kids. After all, if we didn’t, we’d have grown men and women bawling in the middle of corporate offices after stubbing their toes on coffee tables.
When we fall down as kids, we tend to cry out of shock or embarrassment. Our parents tell us, “It’s okay, you’re okay,” and we learn how to carry out that assessment on our own as we grow. We learn how to decipher which boo-boos require tears and attention and which need only brushing off.
Growing up in the world of sports, however, this line grows blurry.
We have athletes shrugging off twisted ankles, pulled muscles, and torn ligaments. And we applaud them. Teammates try to play through serious knee injuries or concussions and we lift our hats to them. We remark on their “heart”, their “drive” and, their “love for the game”.
Yes, perhaps it shows great passion and dedication, but why are we encouraging this? Why aren’t we promoting health and healing above this? Being a “trooper” only works until you’re trampled.
Growing up in this atmosphere, I not only applied this mindset to the court, but to practically all arenas of my life. If I was feeling tired, too bad. “Push through until everything is done!” If I was sad, “Keep moving, there’s no time to process!” Things like that. Now I realize that’s not healthy.
I think that even if we didn’t all grow up playing sports, we can relate to some application of this mantra in our spiritual lives. I can, anyway.
There are times in my life when I have dealt with depression and other related conditions. Those of you who can relate know that this can be quite cyclical- up and down. In the downs, I often continued to present myself as in the ups. “Just play through it.”
On the court, I would continue to run plays. At church, I would continue to serve on the worship team and lead discussions. At games, I didn’t want to seek medical attention because I didn’t want anyone to pull me out. I felt the same way in ministry as well, not wanting to be benched.
I’ve learned, however, that the bench can be good.
I’ve learned that the bench is a place of perspective. When you’re in the middle of the game, you can’t really see the game. In the middle of the action, everything is in-your-face. Everything seems important. It can quickly become overwhelming, especially for an injured player. Leaving the “front lines” may feel like team abandonment, but it’s really better for everyone if you take the time to regroup and recuperate.
“Pushing through” and pretending to be okay helps no one.
I get it. In those times, I’ve felt that I need to pull myself together in order to help others pull themselves together. I’ve been in places where I feel like it’s better to keep my struggle to myself in order to not burden or “bum out” anyone else. I don’t want to be the killjoy or bring anyone else down.
I also fear that if I share my issues, people may perceive this as weakness.
In sports, onlookers sometimes jeer at players who stay down too long. They accuse the athletes of being dramatic or attention-seekers. Ironically, the whole “brush it off” ideology kind of perpetuates the mistreatment of people who are actually injured.
Okay, yes, sports do incorporate a lot of drama. I won’t deny that, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.
Don’t be afraid to sit it out, to acknowledge and process your pain.
I believe that if we continue to simply plunge through our pain, we are like faulty cars speeding down the highway, bound to crash. We need to pull off when those indicator lights flash on our dashboards. Today’s society doesn’t support that, but I strongly believe it’s important.
Even Jesus rested!
Luke 5:16 says, “Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness to pray.” He would do this while there was still work to be done, while people were still calling and pleading for Him. It’s not like everything was finished and now He could sit back and chill. He stopped in the middle of busyness to regroup.
Prayer, like sitting on the bench, refocuses our view, restores our morale. When we’re on the bench, the coach can review plays with us and we can re-hydrate.
Our Coach in Heaven wants to reset us when we get a little out of order. He doesn’t want us to play through the pain. God doesn’t want us to push through the tears all the time; He wants to wipe them away.
It’s okay to step back, even from ministry.
I know it’s easy to fall into thinking, “the people need me!”
But no, the people need JESUS.
Yes, as I have written before, you are a vessel through which Jesus can pour out, but you’re not the only vessel. I used to feel like the team would fall apart without me in the game. We may feel this way in our ministries, that if we don’t do our part, someone will miss the opportunity to come to God or get back on track.
1 Peter 3:15 says to remain ready to speak about Jesus. It implores us not to let any opportunity pass us by. This is the true word of God, but I feel that the enemy (as usual) twists it to guilt us.
Yes, God wants to use us, but He also wants us to be well.
The enemy wants us to think that stepping off the court or field means surrendering to the opponent. In this way, he’ll have us wear ourselves down so much that we become practically useless.
This is not what God wants. He says “come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I’ll give you rest.” That means that He recognizes and accommodates our need for rest. A good coach knows when to pull his players off the court. He knows the signs of fatigue and injury. God knows you.
Did you know you can honor God in your rest?
When it comes down to it, the basis for wanting to stay in the game is pride. We don’t want others to think poorly of us, we want to hold up the team, to display our stamina. Taking a knee requires humility. This is a trait which God loves (James 4:6).
Walking over to the trainer’s station shows God that we trust Him to heal us, that we’re not going to try pushing through on our own any longer, that we will submit to the Doctor’s orders. And since God is the Mighty Healer, you can trust that, in His hands, you won’t be out forever.
God wants you on His team, but He cares when you’re hurt. Don’t hesitate to call a timeout when you need to. Rest assured that God loves and values you on the bench as much as he does on the court.
Anomaly Jaie (A.J.) manages and writes for StudiedandApproved.com, a blog at the intersection of the Christian and student lifestyles. She is currently working toward graduate degrees in Criminal Justice and Public Administration, specializing in juvenile justice. In her free time, she likes to work out, play her guitar, and eat Publix rainbow sprinkle cookies.