Support and Care
I was standing at the edge of the football field watching the college athletes go through their final paces for the day’s practice. I like to pop by the various sporting venues to watch the athletes in their practice sessions. I also like to go by the part of campus where music is made and theater comes alive. Again, I like to do it when they are rehearsing or practicing.
Why do this, you might ask? It sometimes is rather boring to watch them go through various drills. Often it is not game situation or performing the act, as it will appear on stage when the lights are on. That is surely true. But we all know there are basic steps in the process of preparing the final act or when the whistle blows and the game is on. There are fundamentals in all endeavors like this.
Secondly, I like to do it in these venues, because there is no crowd. There are no parents cheering on their athlete, musician or actor. They are not getting applause or kudos from anyone except the coach or director. And often, they are not getting kudos, but rather constructive criticism. So why do I do it?
I do it to be supportive. I know many of the athletes and other performers. Often I have had them in class or have simply come to know them from watching their team or their group. An important part of support is care. I do it to show them I care---care about them and care about what they are doing. It is surprising how many people are going through life without any support and with no clear sign that someone cares.
I do it because I am not their coach or their director. I am someone who does not have to be there. Often they are surprised that I am there. I doubt that they think much about it the first time I visit. That surely is true for the first-year college student. Usually they have no clue who I am or what I am doing. I assume most think---if they think at all---that I simply am curious. So I know the first time makes almost no difference. A one-time visit is not yet support or care.
That is why I make multiple visits. If I keep coming back, they can begin to sense that I am interested and that I am supporting them. Some of the upper class men and women know me and often will greet me. But I am not there to interact with them. They are doing their job---preparing for a game, concert or play. I am certainly not their teacher. In most cases I say nothing. I never do anything that would lead the coach or director to ask me to leave. They are doing their jobs; I am merely a supportive spectator.
I am confident that support over time leads to their understanding that I care. To care is not necessarily doing anything for them. The most I am giving them is my interest and my attention. For a while I am saying to them that they matter. They are “seen.” The support is unconditional. I am not expecting anything from them. They don’t have to recognize me, thank me or anything else.
It makes me ponder how often I get unconditional support? Parents routinely do it for their kids---especially when the child is young. When the newborn comes into the home, unconditional support is expected. Anything less is abuse. As the child grows older, the nature of unconditional support changes shape. Teenagers merit a very different kind of support than infants. And perhaps many of us do not think supporting teenagers merits unconditional support. More often, the support is conditional: “if you do this, I will do that.”
By the time we are adults, it is not a given that we will be supported. And we are not sure that anyone really will care. In fact I suspect many of us live without any real hope that we will be supported or cared for. It is easy to assume we are adults, life is not always easy and we simply need to get on with it. As the old joke goes, “if you need help, dial 911.”
A recent event helped me see the fruit of this effort. As I was standing on the sideline after practice, a player walked up to me, called me by name and said I was the reason he was still in school. I don’t take this to be literally true. I am sure there are many reasons and many people who have helped him stay where he can succeed. But I am confident that I have helped.
In his own way I think he was saying thanks for the support and care. It was very simple on my part. It only required presence. I had never said a thing to him. It was simply a ministry of presence---no pep talk or magical words. I doubt that it even mattered that it was I. He knew me, of course, but it was the presence that communicated support and care.
All this is analogous to the spiritual. I think what I have been doing is exactly what God does for all human beings. God has a ministry of support and care, if we but notice it. And the easiest place to notice it is in the people of God. A key function of disciples of the Spirit is to incarnate---to embody---God’s support and care and to make it real in people’s life. It can be special. It can keep someone in the game!