How I Went from Participant to Spectator in Life

April 3, 2013

I was one of those kids who was picked last for teams in gym class.  Or maybe second-to-last.

If it was dodgeball day, I just kind of quietly moved toward the back wall.  Which seemed like a good strategy until I was one of the last kids left on my team, and suddenly it was me against three gorillas on the other team, with everyone watching.

I started to get performance anxiety…about almost everything.  

Because I learned that participating wasn’t always safe.  If you didn’t have what another kid had, if you weren’t as tall or as strong or as talented, then you would fail in front of your peers.  And failure wasn’t a safe option.

Participating meant failing more often then not.  It meant embarrassment.  It meant looking stupid.

And that’s how school started to transform me from participant to spectator in my own life.

Student Spectators

I see students in my classroom who are on this same path.

They aren’t as talented as the kid sitting next to them.

And a pre-teen’s view of the world has shifted so much since they were in kindergarten.  They are obsessed with how their peers see them.  So many of them hold back, try to shrink, try to stay invisible, so they won’t be called on, or their work won’t be seen, or they won’t feel the familiar sting of inadequacy.

They would rather be spectators than actual participants.  They would rather watch than do.

Spectator Spirituality

And look there at the church down the street.

Why, what are all those people doing?

That guy looks like he really wants to raise his hands during the worship.  But he just can’t draw that kind of attention to himself.  So he kind of bobs back and forth.  And that woman, there in the third row.  I bet she would love to lead a Bible study or a prayer meeting.  But she stays silent.  And that twenty-something, near the back.  He’s heard all of his life that God has a great purpose for him, but he still can’t find it.  He looks like he’s positively itching to get out of dodge and go on a wild adventure for Jesus.  But fear of something is holding him back.

These people, they are spectators, not participants.  I recognize them, because I’ve sat in all of their seats before.

All the World’s an Audience

Everywhere I go, I see spectators.  Someone once said that all the world’s a stage.  I think all the world’s an audience, with most of us too afraid to get up on stage.

People who are afraid that they missed out on God’s purpose for them.

But they are even more afraid to step out and participate.  They hang in the back, like the dorky kid in gym class who can’t throw a ball to save his life (me.)

That’s increasingly my heart in my work and in Life After Art – helping people not be spectators in their own lives anymore, but fully participating in everything God made them to be and do.

I’m done watching from the sidelines.  What about you?

10 responses to How I Went from Participant to Spectator in Life

  1. I want to write a book about our adoption story with a humor slant, but I fear nobody would read it after investing a lot of time in it. I don’t know if that’s fear or being realistic, or both. I was just praying about it, asking God to make it clear if that’s what He wants me to do.

  2. Yes. I’m sure this problem is as old as civilization, but I see it so much in Internet culture. We present ourselves in good snapshots, but are afraid of showing the changing, moving, messy reality of being people. But I think that’s where God is! In the changing and the figuring things out, growing, challenging…grace. You go, get us out of spectator chairs.

    • Wow – Esther, you perfectly encapsulated some thoughts that have been rolling around it my head! We are so afraid to look foolish and wrong that we’d rather edit and airbrush our whole lives for strangers to be envious of!

  3. Forgive me for my naivety but how?

    How does one step off the sidelines and play centre field without being presumptuous?

  4. So glad I found you/this through Billy Coffey. I can’t wait to get your book and read it. I was that one who quickly became a spectator in school. Growing up and coming to Christ in a legalistic setting didn’t help. I became that one who wants to raise their hand in worship but rarely do because of not only the spectator thing but the mental battle that 18 years of legalistic preaching has put into my head. (that ‘agreement’ thing you wrote about in that other post, yeah that.) It has taken me 20 years to actually get back to picking up a paintbrush and face off against the great white monster of blank watercolor paper and I have still only done one painting in the last two years having been told that if what you are doing is not directly leading others to Christ then you are wasting your time. Looking forward to reading more of your writing. :-)

    • “having been told that if what you are doing is not directly leading others to Christ then you are wasting your time” – this has been a major struggle for me too.

  5. The main idea behind my writing is along this very vain – moving from spectator to participant. Not sitting back doing nothing while waiting for God to put up a billboard detailing his plan for your life but rather taking action even if you’re not 100% certain of the outcome.
    Not knowing is scary but so is the idea of looking back over 20 years and regretting doing nothing.
    Good post. Really enjoying your POV. We seem to be looking at things in similar ways.

  6. Wow! I was right in the middle of this post. I am a woman who was once a painfully shy girl. Not that girl anymore, at least not completely, but old patterns are hard to break. I’m learning that fear is simply borrowing from tomorrows mercies. If I live in this moment, I’m living in the moment that God has supplied for. God gives us what we need in this day. This post reminded me so much of a post I wrote on my own blog back in August titled, Here. I was reminded of it as I read this. Glad I came across your blog today.

  7. I’m not sure why but this site is loading extremely slow for me. Is anyone else having this problem or is it a problem on my end? I’ll check back later and see if the problem still exists.|