As often as time and opportunity will allow, I like to take the kids to volunteer at the Special Olympics. The seeds of this tradition were planted long before I had children or was even married. I went with the singles group from my church and had such a marvelous time that five years ago when I decided I was long overdue to go back and help I thought for sure it would be hard to get in and they would be turning volunteers away. Not so. They've always needed us. And in a beautifully, almost poetic way, we've always needed them.
Sometimes when we go, we are assigned to act sort of like officials. We make sure they bowl when it's their turn, or stay inside the boundaries of the bicycle course, etc. always cheering them on along the way. But sometimes, cheering is the only thing we are assigned to do. This year the committee coined the phrase "Fans in the Stands" to describe volunteers assigned to cheering. Maybe some volunteers don't come back because they don't feel needed when they are placed as a cheerleader or a fan in the stand. But this year, the reality of just how much these athletes respond to the encouragement of cheering, became evident to me.
Three of us were sitting by the shot-put event cheering on the contenders when a large group of teenagers came to cheer as well. With their added volume and enthusiasm, you would think you were at an NBA game that was in overtime. The athletes perked up instantly. The shot was put significantly further than ever before. They smiled each time they heard their names being called from the crowd.
It was exciting.
As the event went on and the different divisions came to compete, the teenagers became distracted once in a while and would entirely miss a competitor here or there for no appearant reason other than a text message or an important conversation about something that happened the night before. Innocent and expected from a group in that demographic, but oh how my heart ached for those that didn't hear a crowd cheering for them.
I haven't stopped thinking about how significant it is to be encouraged, even cheered on. So simple, yet so significant. But we live in a world that is severely deficient in applause and approval. Unless of course, you're heads above the rest; bigger, sexier, richer, if you have -er at the end of any of your attributes, you know what it feels like to be cheered and appreciated. You also know what if feels like once the cheering fades. But what about those of us who are merely capable of only doing our best, like the Special Olympians, like the majority of the human population? Doing your best has become so under-appreciated that many people have lost the motivation to do even that.
But where does the fault lie? In the ravers or in the cravers? I believe it's the latter. If we focus on the perfect gifts that God has given us, that dwell inside of us, that bless those around us when we freely share them for the sake of beauty and not the sake of praise, we have serenity and a sense of fulfillment. We can see our perfect place in the universe and in the lives of those around us while being imperfect. We can hear God cheering, we can see five loaves and two fishes go a long way.
Three days ago I was assigned to cheer someone on. It was my job. But in reality, their willingness to take what God had given them and do their best was probably the most cheer-worthy thing I had seen all week, assignment or not.