Jo Rowe believes we can develop good life-changing habits that develop our faith and impact those around us
The game began on a particularly long car journey with fractious kids in the back.
Fobbing off with “Not long now!” was not working and we’d run out of snacks 40 minutes ago. “Let’s play a game!” I said brightly, my mind instantly going blank; I couldn’t think of a single game to play. “Who has a good one?”
My eldest daughter came to the rescue with a game a friend taught her on a school-trip coach. Yee-ha Yellow Car was born. The premise was simple, you had to be the first to spot a yellow car before anyone else and claim it by saying “Yee-ha Yellow car”. You’d have thought this game would not entertain a car of three teenagers and an eight year old, you’d think it would soon get old… but my family is competitive. And this game became the fiercest grudge match you can imagine. It extended far beyond that single journey and became something that took over our lives. The family Whats-app group would have pictures of yellow cars with bold captions; we’d be having a perfectly civilised conversation and it would be punctuated with loud “YEE-HA YELLOW CAR! New rules were invented, scores were kept, sightings had to be officiated and verified, and rules were taught to anyone who we gave a lift to. Soon we were hard wired to spot yellow cars. I would be on the phone to my husband and, in the middle of a serious conversation, one of us would say” Yee-ha Yellow car!” having spotted one passing. I’d be driving on my own and I would find myself saying it out loud to myself! It got ridiculous. It became our default. Before this game entered our lives, I didn’t pay attention to the colours of cars!
One morning I was driving back from the school run and I saw a yellow car, I went to announce it, before catching myself. I bit it back, laughing at the ludicrousy of it, and then turned my thoughts to the way I had trained my brain to do something automatically. It hadn’t taken long, two months of car journeys maybe. I wondered what else I could train my brain to do? What else could I notice or learn? I felt a sudden prompting, what if, instead of noticing yellow cars, we trained ourselves to notice something else. I asked my kids what things they might train themselves to notice. How could they use this skill for good, for Kingdom gain?
My youngest son decided to notice the sky. He decided that everytime he saw a cloud he liked, or a sunset or a rainbow or heavy rain, he would thank God for his goodness. I now regularly hear a “Wow! Look at that, God’s amazing!” from the back seat! My son’s yellow car is the majesty of God in the sky.
My eldest son decided that he would notice people who needed encouragement on the rugby pitch. As a keen player, he decided that he would become a champion of others. So when another player makes a great tackle or run, he will praise them in front of other people; and when they miss he will encourage them to get back up and shake it off. He has decided that he will play rugby like Jesus would play rugby! (somehow the image of Jesus playing rugby makes me smile a lot!) My son’s yellow car are the teammates who need encouragement.
My daughter has decided that she will notice the people at school who never get to speak. She wanted to create openings for people, ask them what they think, make space for them in conversation. Her yellow car would be the shy people, the quiet people.
My eldest chose to notice new people in church. She has now trained herself to welcome new people who are visiting; when my husband and I finally get to introduce ourselves a few weeks later, we are often greeted with “Oh you’re Imogen’s parents!” She wants to recognise those who might feel nervous or on the outside. Her yellow car are the new people visiting.
And for me? Well, I have decided to try to follow my son’s example and become an encouragement in my workplace. I work in a primary school where staff often feel overwhelmed by all that needs to be achieved in a school year. It is easy to miss the small breakthroughs, and behavioural improvements, when the mountain of progress needed still looms overhead, but I am trying to notice the wins and be my colleagues’ cheerleader.
It takes 21 days to create a new habit and 66 for it to become automatic and thoroughly ingrained. Our family is still in the early-ish days of this but I am enjoying seeing the way that noticing people and the things that God has made, is changing the way we interact with the world. The Yellow Car game taught us to be present in the moment and notice something that God is doing. It taught us that our brains are powerful and can be trained to make a difference. It also taught us that our family is ridiculously competitive and ruthless in winning. So, if you happen to drive a yellow car on the A303, don’t be surprised if you hear a car full of lunatics yelling “Yee-Ha Yellow Car!”