Sitting on the Sidelines

David pitching

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. – James 1:19 (NIV)

When our youngest son played baseball, I learned a lot about sitting on the sidelines and watching my child struggle—knowing, outside of cheering encouragement from the stands, there was nothing I could do to help him.

That’s hard for a parent. We want to help our children any way we can. We want to fix what’s broken in their lives, kiss the boo-boos, take away the hurt—and we’ll move heaven and earth to accomplish it. 

When they’re little and still living at home, we can do that. Then they grow up, and learning to be a (good) parent moves up to another level. A whole new set of skills waits to be learned, new behaviors to be adapted, if we want to maintain a healthy, thriving relationship with them and continue to influence them in a positive way.

Watching our son struggle on the mound during his baseball years was but a prelude to watching a grownup child grapple with the curve balls of life. 

What’s a parent to do?

What the apostle James wrote in the first-century is excellent parenting advice in the twenty-first.

First, be quick to listen. Be a good listener. That means listen with your ears and with your heart. Listen without judging. Listen without trying to come up with an answer, a solution. Just let them talk. Listen without thinking of your demanding to-do list. Thank God your child wants to confide in you. Be a careful, thoughtful listener (Amplified version of James 1:19).

Second, be slow to speak. The writer of Ecclesiastes gives good advice when he advises,  “Do not be quick with your mouth. Do not be hasty in your heart . . . let your words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:2). Pray for wisdom before you speak. Don’t give advice unless asked for it, and when you do, let your words be few. Be “a speaker of carefully chosen words” (Amplified). Ask questions to help them figure it out for themselves, see things that they don’t see, understand things a little bit better. “Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Ephesians 4:29).

Third, be slow to become angry. Keeping emotions in check is difficult when your child is hurting. The Mama Bear is roaring at her cage doors. You’ve got to keep her locked up. Know when to intervene and how. Be patient, reflective, forgiving (Amplified).

Sometimes—most times—you don’t know when or how to intervene—or even if you should. That’s where prayer comes in. Ask God for His wisdom: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

And finally, love unconditionally. Our children respond to our love more than to our words. Read 1 Corinthians 13 over and over. Model that kind of love, and keep the doors open and the coffee pot ready. 

Being a parent doesn’t come with an expiration date—it’s a lifetime commitment. Being a good parent means you never stop learning how.

With the grace of God, the wisdom of His Word, and persistent prayer, I can be the parent my child needs, even when—especially when—I’m sitting on the sidelines.

 Help me, Lord, to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry when I’m standing on the sidelines watching my children struggle with life. Amen.

 Read and reflect on James 3:17–18.

 From God, Me, & a Cup of Tea: 101 devotional readings to savor during your time with God © 2017 Michele Huey. All rights reserved. Used with permission.


Listen before you answer. – Proverbs 18:13 GNT

Modern technology is wonderful. I can now keep in touch with my kids, who live in various states, and my brother in Alabama on a daily basis. I can send and receive pictures, memes, messages. I can encourage, remind, inform.

What I can’t do is deal with a frustrating software function on my phone that changes my words while I’m typing. It’s called “autocorrect.”

While its purpose is to correct common spelling and typing errors and save time, it doesn’t always save time and it doesn’t always correct correctly. Hence I’ve dubbed it “autoINcorrect” because a good deal of the time it changes the word to one I didn’t intend.

I admit, my fat fingers fly on the tiny keyboard and often hit the wrong key, but I’m perfectly capable of noticing and correcting my own mistakes. After all, I’m a writer, editor, and former English teacher. I know my grammar – so well one of my editing clients calls me a “Grammar Nazi.”

So I’m more than irked when Otto Korreck (another name I dubbed the irritating function) changes my words and hence the meaning. How dare it! I know what I intend to say. Otto doesn’t. Otto only thinks he knows what I intend to say.

One day while retyping and resending a message – and grumbling about the time wasted correcting Otto’s mistake – it hit me: I can be like Otto.

I, too, can misinterpret what another person is saying because I assume what the other person means. I don’t listen. I’ve tuned them out because my mind is reviewing the story I want to tell (related to what the other person is saying, of course) when he pauses long enough for me to jump in with my two cents.

I act like I’m listening. I nod, murmur appropriate phrases to show my (fake) sympathy or understanding. But my mind is all but truly listening.

Listening is different than hearing.

Hearing happens. We hear sounds all the time – the dishwasher running, a neighborhood dog barking (or cow mooing), traffic on the road, wind chimes. Some we block out; some we stop and listen to.

Listening is a conscious act that you choose to do. It requires concentration and time to allow your mind to process the sounds.

My mother was good at hearing but not truly listening. It irked me to no end because I just needed someone to listen (and commiserate). I didn’t need the preaching and teaching session she launched into when I was done. I wondered if she really heard and understood what I was saying. She was too busy preparing her message to really listen to me.

Do I do the same? Do I only hear other people and not truly listen to them?

Listening involves the heart. Listening involves shutting off my mind to the stories and things I want to say. Listening means putting the other person’s needs first. After all, it isn’t about me.

The person probably doesn’t need me trying to fix her problem. She just wants to vent. She just needs someone to listen with compassion and sympathy, someone to squeeze her hand or give her a hug.

In his epistle, James tells us to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19).

The Amplified version expands the meaning and tells us to be careful, thoughtful listeners, and when we do speak, to carefully choose our words so they show we’re reflecting on what was said (and thus listening).

Don’t be another Otto Korreck. Listen with your heart.

Remind me, Lord, that I have two ears and one mouth. Help me to use them to minister to others. Amen.

Read and meditate on Philippians 2:3–4.

© 2018 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.