The daily Scripture reading today comes from Isaiah chapter six. The verses are one through eight. The last, six-eight, is my verse. Here I am. Send me. Though this is the short and sweet reminder, the whole scene in this section of Isaiah is quite beautiful. I have spoken of it before, but it is always worth thinking on again. Isaiah finds himself in the presence of the Lord. He is horrified because he recognizes he should be dead. He is a man of unclean lips and cannot be in the gaze of absolute holiness without perishing. One of the seraphim, servants of the Lord, comes to Isaiah with an ember from the altar and touches it to his lips, telling him his sin is now purged. Isaiah experiences his nothingness, then immense grace in being chosen and redeemed from his wickedness. From this posture, he responds to the call from the Lord Himself, who asks, “Whom shall I send? Who shall go for Us?”
Here I am. I said. Send me.
After about a week of playing in Denmark, I was feeling pretty good about myself. The coaches and staff had been very complimentary of my game. They thought I was a smart player with a good understanding of where to be when. One of the coaches commented that I am the “invisible player.” At first, I didn’t know whether to be insulted. To my ego, it sounded like a negative thing. Something to be avoided. Not exactly so. He explained I am the glue that keeps the team together, though I may not always be noticed. I am not the attacking player who goes on the dribble, beats one or two players, and hits a banger upper ninety. I am also not the center back who makes a goal-saving tackle (though I am more used to this than scoring goals). My game is more hidden. A lot of the things I do are away from the ball. Invisible to the unlearned eye. I spend a lot of time during the ninety minutes scanning for open spaces and the position of other players. I purposefully grab the attention of defensive players to pull them away from areas to make it more advantageous to us. To give us a numerical advantage with the ball in the build-up or attack. It has taken an abundance of games and conversations with coaches to not only see the game this way but to see its beauty. I could be tempted to say my time as a graduate assistant at TCU videoing games from a bird’s eye view has been the most crucial to my development as a soccer player. I have trained to get quicker and more explosive, but I have a ceiling in this department. This is not my strength. I rely on positioning and seeing things before they happen. I train my mind to be faster than my feet.
Not gonna lie, I wasn’t quite sure how to feel when the coach named me the invisible player. It was a mix of gratitude and dissatisfaction. I think for a majority of my youth I repressed the desire for the limelight. I wasn’t going to put myself in the spotlight, but I also wouldn’t resist being called to it in recognition of success or achievement. I was definitely not resisting for good behavior or perfection. I coveted these things above all. I knew arrogance and self-admiration were bad but rather than be real about them and let healing occur, I tried to bury them. I remember I used to do this thing in my mind where I would imagine capturing a bad thought, pushing it into some carved out chamber in my head, covering it with a wooden seal and hammering nails into the wood to imprison this bad thought forever.
But the problem is “feelings that are buried are always buried alive.” [Hiding from Love]
(A quick note. This book, Hiding from Love by Dr. John Townsend, is utterly turning me inside out. Highly suggest it.)
I was hiding my badness for fear it would dismantle the image of perfection I was so carefully crafting. Dr. Townsend discusses how “fixating on goodness-while ignoring badness- can lead to an addiction of self-admiration. It leads away from love. Love sees-and forgives-the bad.”
I didn’t allow the badness into the light of relationship to be loved. I deemed it unlovable, just as I deemed your physical weakness unlovable, dad. I had to be the star of the family. I had to be the self-sufficient one. But how often I craved rebellion. I wanted to throw fits and temper tantrums. I wanted to scream at the injustice of having to take care of my father when he was supposed to be taking care of me. You were supposed to be the strong one, not me. I see now, of course, you were. I didn’t then. Not only was I robbed of my father but my mother as well. I felt sorry for mom. I only saw her sacrifices in taking care of you. Though I longed for her, I couldn’t be another concern or weight for her to carry.
I suppressed so much of this anger and grief. I lived as though I had lost my father long before you died. I decided being a wife was a form of imprisonment. Check it. “Self-admiration leads away from love.” I didn’t believe love sees all the flaws and imperfections and could go on loving still. I perceived all the emotion wasn’t something to be healed but rather hidden. I labeled it badness rather than emotional need and so kept it from my relationships. Asking for help, asking for anything was only burdensome.
I realize this is the way I started hiding. This is the conception of my withdrawal from relationship. This is the birth of the invisible player.
I had a teacher in 7th grade who said something to me I have yet to forget. He was my cross-country coach. I thought he was the absolute coolest. At the end of a meet, one of my closest friends and I took a picture. I can’t remember if he was the one who took it or saw us taking it. The sun was setting, and my friend was a couple inches taller than I was, so I was in her shadow. She was a faster runner than I was. More popular in school. Funny. Not socially awkward. I wanted to be like her in a lot of ways. After we took the picture, my teacher comes up to me. He says, only loud enough so I can hear, “make sure you don’t stay in her shadow.”
All I could think about was cross-country at the time. She was just better than I was. I wasn’t sure I could ever beat her. Uncoincidentally, my coach’s words would apply to much more than cross-country. I was comfortable in the shadows. But not for the right reasons. My desire was to be the girl everybody liked. In a sense, my desire was to be in everyone’s shadow. I wouldn’t cause a fuss, wouldn’t disagree. I took the form of who I was with. I wouldn’t say or do anything to disappoint anyone. It wasn’t that I wanted to be someone else but rather I could just be everybody. This way I wouldn’t be an added burden or weight on anyone else. Self-admiration provided some degree of confidence in my own skin but only based on merit and approval from others. I could only be myself, fully, after I had proven my value. I only allowed the whole Lauren to come out after everybody knew how good I was at soccer or how smart I was in school. Once I gained their respect and credibility, then I could be confident in the other parts of who I was. Relying on talent and intellect left these other parts drastically underdeveloped and unnurtured, though. So much so I regarded them as useless and dispensable. No one cared about them anyway. The world wanted all-stars and geniuses, so I had to be great or nothing. The other parts didn’t matter.
This was how I thought. I left so much of myself in the shadows of others so often that I perceived my identity was really only two-dimensional. Athlete and student. I didn’t know much more about me outside of those two things. My relational skills were rough around the edges, especially with boys. I forgot about being a daughter. Didn’t want to be one, truly, which stripped the foundation of any intimacy as a woman. Ask me what I thought on a controversial topic, and I would most likely tell you what I thought you wanted to hear. I was too much of a rule follower and too fearful of disobedience to go as far as saying I didn’t believe in God or anything like that. I also wasn’t asked hard questions because I had gotten so good at the perfection front. I lacked a lot of what I condemned in others. Depth.
I was living in the shadows to do my own thing and not to ruffle any feathers. This hidden life was on my terms and suited me pretty well honestly. I had my own thoughts and opinions on some things for sure but rarely put myself in situations to share or have to explain them in full. I wasn’t that person to tell it how it is. I just wanted you to like me and think I was a good person.
There is another sense of a hidden life. A much more fulfilling and real version. This hidden life is based on purpose, belief and humility. It stems from the experience of Isaiah. It follows the truth of losing your life to find it. But this without a conscious effort of losing it. Or without a selfish motive of gain. It is out of humility Isaiah offers himself to the Lord. Realization of his nothingness moves him into action. In a sense, he quite forgets himself. I would wager there was no thought of gain or what he could get out of answering the Lord’s calls. No sentiment this is what he ought to do because he is that kind of guy. In reality, he may become that kind of guy by serving the Lord but even then, he wouldn’t consider it. It wouldn’t be a thought. I believe this is losing your life. The finding is mostly unnoticed. Maybe it seems solely a bonus. Maybe it can be thought of like flow. You are at your best and highest capacity when your mind is almost blank. It is almost blank because it is so locked in. So in tune with the rest of your being and with the task at hand. Maybe we are most ourselves when we are so in tune with God. We become invisible to ourselves.
There is a new movie called “The Hidden Life.” It is about an Austrian farmer during WWII who refuses to fight for the Nazis. They imprison him, beat him, humiliate him and ultimately kill him. But he will not vow his allegiance. He endures so much suffering and persecution for what? No one could have known outside of his wife. Not a chance he was thinking maybe he would be famous one day in the future when a movie was made to commemorate his life. No. His resistance was silent. His existence could have been forgotten and nothing he did could have mattered to anyone. What’s the point then? He was one man. What difference did he make in not fighting for the Nazi war machine? I think these must be the wrong questions when considering losing one’s life. It seems much too difficult to freely let go of your life when trying to consider such big ideas. Rather than sorting through the possibilities and outcomes, it is a Who we must consider. The question is who am I?
This is the question Isaiah gets answered. He says he is a man of unclean lips. It is in the presence of the Most High he realizes this.
I have never been in the holy of holies of the tabernacle. But I have read God’s Word. I have eaten of His flesh. His presence within these things answers the only question I need to ask. He tells me who I am. All the moments I remember it, I live the true hidden life. I have lost my life to find it. I am the most myself when I gaze at His Word and be still before His presence in the Sacraments. Nothing else matters. I find no other satisfaction or desire besides walking with my God forever. It is in the Lord’s shadow I find myself.
I am the invisible player not because I am the smartest, or the slowest. I am the invisible player because out of some measure of grace, the Lord revealed Himself and showed me who I am.
Here I am. I said. Send me.
PS- I watched the movie “The Hidden Life” before leaving for Denmark. I asked myself, could I do what the farmer did? Is the Lord enough for me? Could I be invisible and live the hidden life and be okay with it? Not just okay with it but desire it even. When my coach called me the invisible player, I couldn’t help but wonder at these questions again and consider I had been quite enjoying the role I was playing on the team. Without knowing this is what I was doing.