When we think of morning devotionals, we often think of encouraging words and connections to Scripture to start the day. These reminders of the call to live as we are created and show up as the men and women we want to be help with the outflow in our coming daily interactions. We may remember an idea or phrase, rolling it over in our mind as how to best incorporate or practice it throughout the day. Some of these thoughts become sticky, convicting, or calls to action.
There is a quote in the popular devotional My Upmost for His Highest that does just this. The March 24 reading discusses our role in sharing the gospel and ends with, “You may often see Jesus Christ wreck a life before He saves it.” It’s sticky and stays around a bit. It’s convicting and hits you in the gut. It’s a call to action, in this case that of inaction. Simply put, it’s an invitation to stand on the sidelines.
And standing on the sidelines is scary. Standing on the sidelines is painful.
Standing on the sidelines is hard.
Parents, bosses, friends, spouses, whatever the relationship, it can be gut-wrenching and beyond aggravating to watch a loved one make poor decisions, run from truth, avoid responsibility or create their own negative consequences. The unknown outcomes that race through your mind and the needless pain that seems avoidable can create an internal tension that seems impossible to tolerate. How do you not jump in, how do you not say something, how do you not share your two-cents? After all, it’s for their benefit!
And yet, to stand on the sidelines when you can take action is sometimes the most faithful, helpful, and effective thing you can do.
As much as we’d like, we can’t change others. Often they do not hear the suggestions we offer if they themselves aren’t asking the questions. This route of offering information can seem helpful, but instead of leading to the outcomes we are hoping for, it often leads to rupture and resentment. Children angry at parents who jump in and don’t let them learn, spouses resentful towards one another as they offer unsolicited input, friends put out by assumptions that their way is always wrong.
So how do we move aside and watch as God grows and teaches and changes the hearts and lives of those we love?
In order to stand on the sidelines, we must examine what is happening in us–both thoughts and emotions–that wants something different. Perhaps it is to avoid painful emotional consequences, receive validation, or simply save time. As we figure out what we are needing, we must learn to take care of these needs ourselves, as best we can, while allowing the other the space to struggle, fail, grow, and learn.
It may mean waiting it out while a child stays up to finish procrastinated homework. It might be sleeping on an airport floor with a spouse who refused travel input. It could be faithfully standing by while watching a friend date someone unhealthy. And instead of adding advice and the “I told you so,” we mindfully choose to remain in quiet prayer, discern the times to speak up, talk to a trusted confidants, set new relational boundaries, or possibly forego a hoped for shared relational experience. And all this while God works and you wait.
The difficulty in allowing others to experience what they need for growth often forces us into discomfort ourselves. But perhaps the most beautiful thing is that we too learn to struggle well as we stand on the sidelines.
Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC.