Some time ago we had a visiting preacher at our church and he was talking about the human tendency to play it safe, to be nice, to behave in the way that is expected – challenging us to be willing sometimes to stick our necks out and take risks.
I found it ironic that I was actually putting that into practice during his sermon…
because when he did that “turn to your neighbour and say such-and-such to them” – something that as an introvert always makes me cringe a bit, but this time it made me cringe even more than usual because of what this guy was asking us to say – I didn’t play it safe, I didn’t do as I was told. Me and the lady sitting next to me quietly rebelled and agreed we weren’t going to do that.
I’m not totally anti this “turn to your neighbour” thing. I think it can sometimes be helpful, depending what the exercise is. And in the context of the generally reserved British culture, it can actually be quite healthy to get people to speak to the person sitting next to them in the pew. In this case it worked as a great ice-breaker – the lady sitting next to me was someone I hadn’t met before, and we had a quiet conspiratorial giggle between us as we agreed that there was no way we were going to say what this guy wanted us to say to each other. (Hint for preachers: if you have an unpleasant message for people, say it yourself, ok? don’t try to get us to do your dirty work for you.)
It has certainly helped my sanity to learn over the years that I don’t have to always follow the instructions from the front.
And no, I’m not getting into what it was that he wanted us to say. The point is, I refuse to say something I don’t mean to my neighbour just because I’ve been told to. Because I actually believe it matters what I say to people. I’m not an actor in a play, and the person sitting next to me in the pew is someone I’m going to have to relate to afterwards – as it happens, that particular lady ended up joining the home group I’m in, and when I saw her there I just thought: thank God I had not said that insulting stuff to her.
So I’m a bit of a rebel… and have been known at times when we get these kind of exercises to turn to my neighbour and say: sorry, I just can’t do that. And so we connect for real. Much healthier, I think.
Note to those who have been reading my blog on Multiply – yes, I’ve decided to get some of my old posts out and dust them, so you will recognise some of this stuff.