Evangelism the party game

Last night I went to a Christmas dinner with an amazing diverse group of women with a shared interest in Italian language and culture. The group has been meeting over nearly twenty years to have Italian conversation, eat wonderful antipasti and generally have a nice time.

It was my first Christmas dinner and so I was unaware of the traditional activity, which varies each year, but usually involves some kind of party game. Last year they all had to wear hats with a word they couldn’t see and they had to guess it from the clues others gave them.

This year we all had phrases taped underneath our chairs. These were random, mostly surreal statements that we had to slip into conversation without detection. Once we’d all had our first go at the munchies and got settled, we were allowed to read our slips of paper. Mine said ‘I love Italian cheese but I prefer Kraft singles’. I couldn’t say it with a straight face, not between mouthfuls of delicious Italian nibbles, so I gave the game away instantly. My partner worked hers into an otherwise perfectly normal chat about holiday destinations. Mind you her sentence was much easier than mine: ‘if I won the lottery I’d buy a house in Tuscany’.

It was a great game, and funny to see people leading conversations off in weird directions so they could work their phrase in undetected. It was a lot of fun but for a while I was silent, paralysed by the need to fit this unfamiliar set of words into my conversation. My phrase felt like a burden I had to get rid of. Others had the same problem, to the point where they couldn’t play the game at all.

And it made me think of the formulaic evangelism that I was taught growing up, the three- or five-point scripts intended to show people their need for God, His work in Christ and the great plan of salvation. I never used any of them because they felt a bit like a set of random sentences inserted into a completely different context. Like this party game.

I dislike scripts. They feel manipulative and inflexible. But I know they work for some. For those who, like in this game, spend the time to bring the conversation round, set the context and then gently introduce the script. For a long time I felt that there must be something wrong with me because I have always found it so hard to even set the scene for prepackaged words about God. For me it simply doesn’t work. It feels awkward and false. Not because God is false, but precisely because He is real.

Yikes! I just preached!

Yes way. This last Sunday. I stood up and preached from Romans 12 1 – 2. And the sky did not fall in. Nobody got up and left. Or threw anything, or shouted heretic.

They were all quite nice about it actually.

And despite the sleepless nights and the 8 or 9 versions that I wrote before it was delivered, I really REALLY enjoyed it. Even writing that down seems like a big deal. I have learned to censor myself too much. I sound like a Jane Austen character. One of the demure, boring sisters. Maybe because sometimes that’s what I still think I’m meant to be. It’s hard to shake the idea that that’s what Godly looks like. Like a Victorian child, seen and not heard.

I said in a previous post this was my year of saying Yes. And no. No doubt I’ve got it mixed up a bit along the way but it was with a sense of daring bordering on recklessness that I said yes when asked if I would preach while one of our ministers was on paternity leave. It was like an out-of-body experience. I watched myself say yes quickly without agonising and then, having said yes, I watched myself not agonise about having said yes to such a stand-up-the-front-and-make-everyone-listen-to-you-for-twenty-minutes thing. I just went on with my life until it was time to prepare. Who was this strange relaxed woman who had invaded my body?

I figured she’d taken the night before the service off because I was very much back in charge then. I spent a while letting all kinds of weird scenarios process through my head like some kind of carnival parade. My insecurities were jumping up in my face like our overexcited dog. Then this question cut through the noise: how did you get here and how do you really feel? Deep down, out of sight of the pointing fingers and turned backs in your imagination. That was God. I have no doubt. As I pondered the question, I realised that deep down, I felt neither stress nor anxiety, but excitement. I was buzzing, but feeling somehow wrong about it. A blog I’ve found recently by Jory Micah may have helped me knock the last few nails in the coffin of why girls can’t preach, but it was still hard to shake the feeling that I was having altogether too much fun even thinking about doing it.

When I was a child our vicar, a lovely man called Graham Hayles, would describe how God would give him bits and pieces to add to his sermon as the week went on, in events and unexpected conversations with people as he went about his pastoral work, or shopping or gardening or whatever. He would talk about insights that came as he observed things around him. I remember that I loved hearing about that, thinking how cool it must be. Just to think about and observe the world and see what God is saying today to reinforce and explain the ancient texts of scripture for us today. Strange thing for a young girl to enjoy, but there you are.

Now fast forward exty-ex years to last Saturday. Here I was about to do just that. To preach God’s word, illustrated by my own insights, coincidences and random events, which had been accumulating for weeks like the dustbunnies under my bed. My fears and anxieties melted away as I realised that God had orchestrated this whole event. I did not ask to speak but was asked. I only had to do my part and leave the rest up to him. It went well. I felt calm. Very, very calm. They even laughed at my jokes.

It was only after I sat down that I began to shake.

No prizes for busy

No, really. There are no prizes for being busy. No matter how many jobs you pack into your day, how many errands you run, tasks you complete, people you help, or laundry you get done. Sorry to burst your bubble, but there it is. We don’t get kudos for all this. We just get to do it all again tomorrow.

That said, there are blessings in it all, for all the times we moan and feel sorry for ourselves. For those of us who have families, people to care for who in turn care for us (though this may not always be obvious), there are many, many for whom this is not only not true, but seems impossible. A dream, even.

But I’m not just thinking about thankfulness, powerful as that is. I’m thinking about slowing down. Changing pace. Being in the moment. Being aware of the gift of now. Dare I say it? Relaxing. Enjoying what God has given you.

This doesn’t come easily. It has taken time and a shock to show me I had taken on more than I could reasonably achieve. I could hardly admit that to myself, because it felt wrong somehow to withdraw.

In the end, the pressure became too much. I went POP! And ended up in the emergency room.

Since then, God has kindly been reminding me of the following invitation from Jesus.

Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Matthew 11 vs 28 – 30

In humility I admit I am not superwoman, and Jesus does not ask that of me. So I’ve been handing back some responsibilities, and letting myself take a breath now and then.

Would-be Superheroes, there are no prizes for busy. So take some stuff off your to-do list.