ditch the script: a mantra for the person who's most comfortable knowing exactly what's expected of them
I’m someone who very much likes to follow a script. Not in an actress-kind-of-way but rather, I simply feel most comfortable when I know exactly what’s expected of me in any given situation. I find safety in “supposed to”—with a script to stick to, there’s less chance I’ll say or do the wrong thing. (Confessions of a recovering people-pleaser, bear with me).
But sometimes, you just gotta ditch the script, and I’m getting more comfortable doing so.
Last week I took a one-day class for work called “The Engagement Equation.” Targeted at managers, the class covered techniques to increase engagement among employees—measured both by their levels of contribution and satisfaction. About five notches on the totem pole below “manager” myself, I was in the class to gain skills not for people I manage, but a program, and felt more than a little out of place.
Accordingly, I assumed the appropriate script: be friendly, don’t draw too much attention, do as you’re told. The attention part flopped when I walked in the room, clearly the odd-ball, and stares told me some were no doubt wondering what the girl with a messy bun was doing there.
About halfway through the day, we broke up into pairs to practice one of the techniques we’d learned. As everyone coupled off I noticed a lady, smiling and waving me over to her side of the room. Through the group discussions that had taken place all morning, I’d noted her to be someone warm, joyful, confident.
We were instructed to take turns picking situations from our lives—be it work, or personal—where we were perhaps struggling, and in need of advice. At which point, our partner would practice asking open-ended questions, coaching us to arrive at an answer on our own. We were given a script to follow—quite literally—which was a dream, seeing as I was already slightly uncomfortable, surrounded by people who were probably peers of my boss’s boss. I dutifully detailed a scenario with co-workers, then listened as my joyful partner played her corresponding part. Afterwards came her turn. Not only did she not choose a work scenario, but it was apparent there were no pretenses involved.
The joyful lady before me grew somber as she began to talk about her sick mother who was living in a nursing home a few hours north and how, after logging 50+ hours in the office every week, every weekend she drove up to care for her. Juggling her mom’s doctor appointments and bills against the demands of a full time job supervising others, not to mention her own family at home, she was depleted. She told me about the time when, in sheer exhaustion, she got impatient with her mom, whose speech is slow due to the sickness, only to be overtaken by guilt that night when her head hit the pillow. How could I do that to the same mom who taught me to speak as a little girl? I watched this selfless woman who was spending herself on those around her heap guilt on herself for being human, and my heart hurt.
I saw in her a soul so genuine, so loving, so…tired. The weight of the world was on her shoulders and the undertone of her words told me she worried none of it was enough. At work, am I being enough? To my mom, am I being enough?
Now it was my turn, and my script told me to ask open-ended questions, to coach my partner to a place of finding a solution. Only, a pretend solution wasn’t what my heart told me she needed most in that moment. I was overwhelmed with a sense that Jesus was looking at her, eyes brimming love and tenderness, seeing her. Seeing her love for her mom, seeing the way she extended kindness to all around those around her, seeing her work hard and pour her heart out for the good of others. I imagined Him pleased with her, wrapping her up in His peaceful presence, and her knowing that she was loved, that she was enough.
Slightly nervous, I decided to ditch the script.
I told my partner that her mom was blessed to have such a loving daughter. I told her that she exuded joy, and warmth. I told her she was a hard-worker, and smart, and that her employees must enjoy working for someone so kind. I don’t remember my exact words, but here’s what I was trying to say: you’re seen.
Large tears welled—tears that were the sign of a soul thirsty for life, rest, and peace, a soul that needed to know she was seen. They spilled from the corners of her eyes; she smiled, and thanked me.
Here’s the thing: this smiling lady with the hard stuff happening below the surface—she is the norm, not an anomaly. All around us are starving souls, people depleted by exhaustion, depression, anxiety, loneliness, suffering. All around us are souls crying out, and Jesus is the only answer.
I think of many times working as a server at a steakhouse in college when I felt God’s prompting to speak words of encouragement to different customers I had—some that I followed, others I didn’t. Usually when I didn’t, it’s because I was too focused on my script.
I’m just supposed to run this food out to her car, get her credit card, run it, and bring it back out. That’s my job, that’s what she’s expecting of me. I can’t just tell her she's beautiful, that’s weird!
I let social norms of a particular situation keep me from offering what the starving soul before me was needing.
A friend shared a story not too long ago about how she’d been in a grocery store, and overheard the woman in line before her telling the cashier about her battle with cancer. My friend felt prompted to ask the woman if she could pray for her, but wasn’t sure if it was God. She walked away without offering the prayer, and recounting the story with me, wrestled over whether or not it had been God, whether or not she should have spoken up.
Identifying with her story, it hit me in that moment: if my question in that type of situation is “God should I?” is there ever a time His answer would be no?
I sometimes stop from stepping out, unsure if it’s God speaking and afraid of feeling stupid. But God would never be against me speaking life over someone. His answer would always be yes.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus says that whoever believes in Him,
This New Testament verse fulfills an Old Testament prophecy found in Ezekiel 47, depicting a river flowing from the Temple through the dead land of En Gedi into the waters of the Dead Sea. As the river flows through, it infects all that it touches with life, causing vegetation to spring forth from the land, giving the Dead Sea capacity to support life. That prophecy is a picture of believers; we are vessels through which the life we have in Jesus flows out, infecting everyone around us, bringing dead things back to life.
THAT is our true job—our true script.
I don’t want to let a secondary script keep me from being His vessel. We who have Jesus have the answer to the longing of every human soul, and we need to give Him freely.
May we see the opportunities scattered throughout our moments and our days. May we be brave enough to ditch the script.
P.S. For more coffee reads, check out my friend Matt Fier's blog—he’s someone who never misses an opportunity to speak encouragement to others, and inspires me to truly see others the way Jesus does. He's doing an interview series called "Finding Renaissance," and later this week you may find a familiar face there. 😉 Check it out here.