Play Small Parts in A Big Way

You would have to follow the UConn women’s basketball team closely to know Briana Pulido. She was the senior guard who got on the floor for only two minutes or so at the close of a blow-out game; more likely, you know her as the cheer captain on the bench who high-fived the line of players and coaches when one of her superstar teammates buried a three-point shot. Our family has become big fans of the Huskies, and Pulido’s been one of our favorites–her energy, commitment, and smile are contagious.

When she buried the final shot of the NCAA championship game as her WNBA-bound teammates roared their approval, it was the highlight of the season for us. (She’s #2, seen from the back as she raced down the court following her game and career-concluding shot.)

UConn cheers

Children like mine dream of moments like this, hearing the applause echo in their ears, but they rarely imagine the game-winning shot comes in a break from the bench.

In high school, college, and early seasons of my career, I was privileged to be “a starter.” I wasn’t an athlete, so read this metaphorically, but I proved myself capable in the classroom and as a musician such that I was given center court-worthy attention and opportunities. I relished the spotlight and praise, and I presumed such roles were my destiny. For quite some time, they were.

As time has passed, however, I’ve discovered that my energy waxes and wanes for such roles. I enjoy taking the professional lead for a season of years, and then I want to focus more fully on family, community, and home. After three to five years in a high-profile context, I find myself looking for a supportive venture. In all contexts I desire influence (and as a pastor, I am privileged to put my thoughts, ideas, and reflections before a community on a weekly basis), but I am less attached to the “big job,” the “big moment,” the “big paycheck.” I am happy to play from the bench.

And yet, just as surely as I have felt the pull away from the public eye, I have also experienced the pull back toward it. I live a cyclical life, and though it can be hard to make sense of this on a resumé, I am grateful to be at home on the floor and on the bench. I am glad for the times I have been invited to be Breanna Stewart and grateful for the Briana Pulido-experiences in my life. In both, it is the quality of my dedication, energy, and contributions that earn notice.

I used to think of myself as a person who influences and shapes systems–systems of education, religious practice, community norms, and so on. Now, I’m more inclined to think of myself as a person who influences and shapes the lives of individuals. Recently, after a particularly poignant exchange, the woman with whom I was in conversation thanked me so earnestly, I felt as though the entire universe had shifted toward the greater good. If this is playing from the bench, count me in.

If you’re presently playing what feels a small part (and trust me, I can relate–today’s greatest accomplishment is having a semi-homemade dinner in the crockpot before the daily round of afterschool sports pick-ups begin), play it in the biggest way you know how. Celebrate others’ accomplishments with gusto, high-five everyone around you, and be ready to relieve those women who are presently on the floor. Your presence still matters in this game of life, and you never know when you might be passed the ball.

© 2016 Jennifer L. Sanborn. All Rights Reserved.