What Can God Do?
Guys Like Us group creator Tyler Brondyk and I were chatting the other night about a shared experience of mentoring generally good-natured but unruly youth in sports environments and our own mutual love of and practice of the great game of soccer, when I had an epiphany moment. An epiphany is defined by Merriam-Webster in many ways,and here are two that resonate with me the most:
a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something;
an appearance or manifestation especially of a Divine being.
My epiphany moment involved both of these definitions. Tyler and I had been chatting for a week or so about some struggles we both were encountering with work and personal issues when he shared with me that he had volunteered to coach a boys’ youth soccer team. Knowing how gratifying it can be to work with kids, I was happy for him in my heart but also held him in prayer and hope that it would be a mutually beneficial experience. My own experience with a young adult soccer coach was almost entirely negative, as a guy named Jeff, fresh out of Providence College, took over as JV soccer coach at my high school during my sophomore year. I had high hopes of making varsity that year, but a serious hip flexor injury at a summer camp and a poor tryout hampered my chances severely and so I was stuck on the meager JV squad. As hard as I tried during practices and games, my playing time became limited as my hip injury and a subsequent back injury sidelined me and left a bitterness in me about not playing (I had always been a starter and one of the best defenders on any team I played on). Coach Jeff hadn’t seen me playing when I was younger, didn’t know what I was capable of, and kept claiming I wasn’t hustling during practice. While my teammates backed me and voiced their disapproval of how he treated me, he was set in his ways, and halfway through the season I walked away from the first sport I truly fell in love with. I had once hoped to play soccer in college, but all of that went out the window due to untimely injuries and an inexperienced coach. Now in hindsight I certainly can’t blame Coach Jeff for his actions. He was so young, and new to town and to coaching. He was only doing his best and what he thought was right. But bearing this in mind, I prayed and hoped that for Tyler and his kids it would be a much more positive experience and something that would bring some life back to an extraordinary person who I knew was struggling to keep his flame lit with a recent job change that wasn’t quite what he had hoped it would be.
“I coached soccer tonight. It went very poorly. The kids ran and started playing on the jungle gym. It is more babysitting than anything.”
I empathized with him in that moment, remembering what it was like to have ten teenagers under my “control” as I was named the head of the parish school’s afterschool basketball club whilst I was doing my volunteer year in New Jersey. While that club certainly had its fun moments, it was certainly was a lot of work and felt more like babysitting than basketball. As I began to tell him this and get ready to share some canned line with him about how important it was for the kids for him to be there and what God might be able to accomplish through him for them, my epiphany came. It hit me square across the head, and I just had to share it.
“You know man, something just came to me”, I wrote. “I can definitely sympathize with the ‘glorified babysitting’ thing. That reminds me of my basketball club in Camden. And it drove me nuts sometimes. But then it hit me. Like, as Christians, and people of service we SO OFTEN think ‘Ok, what can I do for others? How is God calling me to help or act in their lives?’ But have you ever stopped to think what God may be hoping to do FOR YOU with those kids? Or any thing or person that comes into your life? Our lives?”
So what CAN a group of unruly 11-year olds offer my friend Tyler? Maybe a laugh once in a while, a few gray hairs, and some nagging parents? Or maybe a reminder life isn’t meant to be taken too seriously, a reminder of what being a kid and having a childlike heart is all about? Or maybe just the simple reminder that God puts so many pieces in motion in our lives, and though invisible He is readily seen in many ways all around us? Maybe they can show Tyler, show me, show any of us, really, that He moves in mysterious ways to be sure, but ways that are still meant to be known and shown to His people. At a time in his life where work was bumming him out and other things were dogging him, Tyler had an opportunity to take this chance, to do something totally new and to risk something. And even if it is just glorified babysitting in some ways, he can- we all can- learn from opportunities like this. We can learn that God sometimes wants us to sit back and relax- “Be still and know that I am”- and watch Him work. It doesn’t always have to be moving mountains, driving out demons or raising the dead. He can and does work in momentous forms for us all in ways as varied and unique as all of His creation is.
What I really was struck by was that the original thought I had, of, well, what if God does things like that for our sake? What if a group of kids we volunteer to mentor, a man or woman or man we fall in love with, or a homeless person asking for money on the street is all a way for God to communicate with us, rather than the other way around? Having worked in an intense Christian service and relational-ministry oriented program for a year and then for a Christian charity for two years directly after that, I know all too well how easy it is to fall into the mindset that “Since I am a Christian and a Disciple I need to do everything for God, I need to always be providing for others and doing as Jesus would do.” While these are undeniable parts of being a Disciple of Christ, and personally what I feel to be a necessary, responsible and rewarding way of living life, it is only half of the equation. Its POV is all about what we can do for God rather than what He can do for us. We need both to be true disciples.
One of my most powerful memories of working for My Brother’s Keeper (the Christian charity I mentioned) was during our annual “Urban Plunge” retreat that hosted a small group of college students from several different Catholic schools. The goal of the plunge was to expose these kids to real poverty in places much closer to home than many of them knew about or were aware of and to motivate them into doing positive Christian action for their less fortunate brothers and sisters. On the final night we shared together as a group, after our evening reflection and prayer, I saw the president of our organization, a man named Erich, leave the room only to return with a large metal bowl and a couple of small white cloths. Jim Orcutt, the still-heavily-involved co-founder, talks about the importance of Christian service in the world and the role that each and every willing and able person can and should play in that. Then he introduces the novel of idea of those same people being served, and letting God tend to us as we strive to tend His flock and to Him through that. He shared the Gospel in which Christ washes the feet of His disciples, beginning with the most stubborn and proudest, Peter, whom would be the rock to build His church upon. In response to Peter’s pride-filled response of not wanting His feet cleansed, Jesus bluntly says, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” In this humbling moment of service, for both Master and servant, we are given an eternal example of not just how to humble yourself in service, but to humble yourself in being served. God is always willing and able to do just that for us. But do we let Him?
To some, it may seem obvious that God works on our behalf, especially when we have come to personally know Christ and know that His entire life was and still is for us. That goes without saying. What I am getting at here, and what my epiphany was all about, is the quiet, often unexpected movements of God in our lives. I'm sure we have all prayed about something and received what we prayed for at some point. This is a gratifying feeling and reassures our faith in God, to be sure. However, as so often is the case, sometimes I feel that we can be ignorant of God's constant presence and His answering of prayers on a day to day basis, and when unexpected relationships or situations come about in our lives. Going back to the event happening in Tyler's life, with this unexpected but welcomed new role as a youth soccer coach, and us both reflecting about working with youth, we can see God at work. Even though Tyler probably didn't specifically pray for this exact event to happen, or even an opportunity like it to present itself, here we can see God at work in ways that are indeed above our ways, with thoughts above our thoughts, as Jesus says. Ever present is the mystery and wonder associated with our Creator and how He works, but to that end, ever present is His love and care for His creation also. We must know this. We must all have our epiphanies from time to time to remind us of our great God!
Andrew Staiti, Storyteller