I learned many things at my conference at Columbia Theological Seminary’s “Yes, And: Improvisational Leadership in Times of Dizzying Change” conference. I learned a lot of improv skills. I learned how they relate to ministry, including my work in spiritual direction. And I learned that I both miss congregational ministry and am grateful to have a break as a “free-range” pastor for a while.
But perhaps the most surprising thing I learned at the workshop was really just an aside to another conversation we were having: “Don’t yuck my yum!”
We have all done it! Our dearest friend says her favorite sandwich is peanut butter and pickles. The church’s youth director admits he loves working with Middle Schoolers. The contemplative mystic type in your prayer group extols the joys of 7-day silent retreats. And our response: “Ooh, yuck! That sounds terrible! I don’t know how you can stand it!”
Now truth is, I love working with Middle Schoolers and completely enjoy 7-day silent retreats, so there would be different things that I “Yuck!” And there’s not much harm in sharing that peanut butter and pickle sandwiches would not be on my lunchtime wish list with other people whose taste buds agree. But there is little that is more deflating than sharing your deepest loves and having someone else “yuck” them on the spot.
And deflating our friends is hardly a goal worth pursuing as we try to live a more spiritual life. It’s cruel, of course. Certainly impolite. And it also blocks further communication and connection with one another.
Imagine the conversation goes a different way: “I LOVE peanut butter and pickle sandwiches.” “Really, I’ve never tried that. What do you like about it?” “The salty and sour really complement one another.” “Well, I’m not sure about pickles and peanut butter together, but many Asian foods have that same salty/sour combination.” “Oh, I know; there’s a great Thai restaurant that just opened up a few blocks from here.” “Well, I love Thai food, maybe we can go for lunch next week.”
You’ve just gone from being cruel and closing down conversation with someone, to a possible lunch opportunity at a great restaurant the following week.
I have experienced many times when the Spirit has told me God’s deepest desires for my life and I have immediately said “Yuck! No way! No how!” Now, I’m lucky that God is pretty persistent and has stuck with me through my ugly behavior. But my life – not just my spiritual life, but my whole life – has become wider and deeper and happier since I have opened myself to listening appreciatively rather than shutting all communication down.
The basic tenet of improvisation is to accept what is offered and build upon it: “Yes, and….” I will be sharing some of the ways I’ve found this to be beneficial to our spiritual development, but I think the most surprising to me was “don’t yuck my yum!” I’m going to be very careful about my yucks in the future!
Do you find yourself saying “yuck” to things you haven’t experienced yourself? Has God ever offered you a task or a promise that has made you want to run away? Sandwiches are pretty harmless yucks, but there are deeper wounds we can cause. Have you ever “yucked” someone when they told you who they love? Or what they want to do with their life? One better response might be “What do you like about that?” if you want to open up conversation rather than shut it down. What are some other phrases that can be helpful in replacing “Yuck!”
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