Well Played Sam!

I have been thinking recently about how the things we say and do can affect other people in more ways than we often realize or intend. In recent years the word ‘triggering’ has come into common usage to describe this in a usually negative way. The ongoing COVID 19 enquiry is an example of this at work where things that are said and described bring to life the previous experiences of people.

I have been a Christian preacher for over forty years, and it never ceases to amaze me how people have been moved or affected in ways beyond my intentions and this might just have been the Holy Spirit at work! In our lives generally we are often aware how diverse people’s reactions can be to our words and actions and we therefore quite rightly seek to be careful, as far as it depends on us, not to hurt others. This might be the fruit of the spirit growing within us.

And yet recently I had a rather strange and unexpected experience that has made me think that sometimes it is possible accidentally or incidentally to trigger people positively. Let me tell you what happened.

I was watching one of my sons play in a football match recently (he’s twenty years of age, by the way, and I have had to pay to watch him play for quite a few years now!) It was away from home, and it was an exciting game with the outcome too close to call. As his team came out for the second half, they were waiting for the home team to reappear and as I usually do, I tried to get his attention by calling out ‘Well played Sam!’ with some body language to encourage him.

About ten minutes into the second half a man in his 30’s came up to me and said, ‘do you mind if I ask you something, and it might sound very strange’. I’m thinking I’ve worked in the church for decades I have heard a lot of strange things’ but I’m saying, ‘No it’s fine, go ahead’ He asks me if it was me who shouted out ‘well played Sam’. When I confirmed it, he proceeded to tell me that it had been his father’s funeral the day before and when he heard me call out it was the exact same words as his dad often shouted out to him when he used to play. In his words it warmed his heart!

I was truly amazed, but I plucked up courage and said that I was a Christian and just maybe God wanted him to have and share, at this particular moment, this happy memory of his dad, who he obviously loved very much. He thanked me and as he turned away our team went up the other end and scored and I nearly missed it for which the man was apologetic.

I have been mulling over this strange and unexpected experience ever since. Firstly, I don’t always say the right thing or act boldly in this way, but it just seemed right so perhaps I need to be open to more opportunities in future.

Secondly, memories are powerful things but maybe we shouldn’t predominantly consider them negative and tread around as if on eggshells. Words and actions can evoke good memories in many ways for example when we share in communion, something powerful happens as we call to mind what Christ has done for us, what theologians call ‘anamnesis’.

So, I will probably never meet this man again, all I know is that he is called Sam. Wesley spoke of ‘prevenient grace’; the way sometimes God can be working in someone’s life in advance of a step of faith. I have prayed for him since and I know the Spirit can work in anyone’s life, even in mine.

Perhaps amidst all the talk of being intentional and strategic, we all might do well to cultivate an ever-deeper culture of expecting the unexpected, and being present and responsive whenever we can and allowing God to be God in all things. Every day and every place!

Maybe you are wondering how the story ends, well we lost the match with a cruel goal seconds from the end but maybe something bigger than football was going on – well I hope so!

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Well Played Sam!

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