Thursday, September 3, 2009

Conformity is Overrated

Have you ever been with a group of people, let's say a Bible study or community group, and felt different from everyone else? Let me set the scene: you respond to a question, express a way you interacted with God over the past week, or share about a past experience and how it fit in with your testimony. You're met with blank stares or silence (or both).

Many years ago I began to share something deeply personal about my past in a small group from church when, at a particularly sensitive moment in the story, several group members began to laugh. Following their eyes, I saw that the hosts' dog was chewing its leg like it was a meaty bone. I never finished my story. But no one was to blame for that response -- it was circumstantial.

I guess what I'm talking about is less about a silly distraction and more a sense of feeling different from everyone else -- of feeling like you've shared something in a way others don't seem to relate to or that your approach to life or God is different somehow. I'm not talking about the "coarse jesting" that I'm often guilty of that Paul tells us to avoid. Or even of the many sinful attitudes I've expressed. It's more just a feeling of not being understood.

My intitial reaction to these situations is usually to avoid feeling that way again, which means trying to act like everyone else. Much less risky. Or to back off from talking as much in the group context (anyone reading this who's been in a group with me probably wonders if I've ever really employed that strategy!). Mostly, it takes me back to the junior high mentality of just wanting to conform.

But I've become convinced that conforming is the worst possible response we can have. I'm beginning to wonder if the very aspects of ourselves that make us feel most different from everyone else might be attributes given to us by God to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

I shared my hypothesis with a trusted friend who kindly pointed out that I tend to not be content with shallow conversation/interaction and ask more probing questions than most people do. She also mentioned that I have a real passion for savoring life rather than just going through life numbly. These traits have often felt like liabilities to me, but I am beginning to see that although they sometimes isolate me or are not initially understood, God has created me this way for a reason. When all our unique traits come together, unencumbered by the darkness of sin, God's character unfolds in wonderful ways here on earth.

Your "assignment," readers, has four parts: 1.) Reflect on situations when you've been in a group and felt different or felt compelled to censor yourself 2.) Talk with a friend who knows you well and try to determine what special traits/attributes your past experiences might be highlighting 3.) Thank God for those traits and ask Him to help you use them for His glory 4.) Start allowing those unique attributes to flourish and don't be tempted to conform any longer!

I'd love to hear your thoughts/experiences/etc. in the comments section.