Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Breaking a habit


Luckily for me, my wife does most of the shopping. But occasionally I must go myself. Recently I visited a few stores with numerous fragile items for sale.
Leaving one of them, I discovered a life lesson.
I noticed it as soon as I walked across the threshold of the store that had seemed filled with breakable things: My hands dug deep into my pockets. I realized I was repeating a reflexive action that I learned as a boy.
In my childhood, the last thing my mother said as we entered a store was, “Put your hands in your pockets. Don’t touch anything. If you break something, we will have to pay for it.”
Those words were drilled into me. Even today recalling them evokes fear and trembling of sorts.
Her message was reinforced by many stores. Signs were mounted near especially delicate items, declaring threats such as “You break it — you buy it” or “Thank you for buying the items you break.” Those kinds of messages still send me in the opposite direction in a hurry.
Some of you are probably thinking, “Come on, it’s just a store. It’s no big deal.”  
But when I was a boy, “hands in your pockets” was a big deal. And I suppose I’ve followed that habit my whole life.
Only recently have I become self-aware enough to notice it.
As I have reflected on my little habit, I have determined to become a little more relaxed. I even have drummed up the courage to enter a store and let my hands have an out-of-pocket experience.
Then I began to wonder if there is a larger message that I might learn from this practice.
People have lots of lifelong habits. Some of those habits relate to church.
There are people who push their hands down in their pockets when they walk into a church. Perhaps they sense an unwelcoming message when they enter.
Perhaps they are worried about the cost of breaking down or buying into something. Maybe they have had a bad experience.
Sometimes we in the church family reinforce those fears through both visible and invisible signs.
Those signs say: “You are not part of us. You don’t look like us. You don’t act like us.
“You are not welcome here.”  
Once I suggested to a church that a sign displaying the times of its services might be a good idea. One of its saints told me, “Everyone here knows what time church starts. We don’t need a sign for the other people.”
I realized the place had a relational sign that broadcast the wrong message. No outward sign would change that inward attitude.
What messages tell people that it is OK to “take your hands out of your pockets”?
How do we communicate that all people are welcomed, valued, and loved by God?
How do you personally send a message of welcome, value, and love to other people who may be filled with fear?

The Bishop Recommends: Bishop Nunn is suggesting books he finds influential. “Everyday Bias: Identifying and Navigating Unconscious Judgments in Our Daily Lives” is by Howard J. Ross.


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