Immersed in a New Language

I studied French in high school and then in college, a beautiful language with consistent rules and logical structure. But when I first began, it made little sense, I struggled with remembering vocabulary as well as accents. Soldiering on, I eventually grew fluent and read important books like “Rinoscéros” by Inoesco. My world opened up, my mind was expanded by learning and immersing myself in this new language. What initially was gibberish come to invade my dreams, I found myself interchanging words between my native language and French, I dreamt in French. Even with all of this though, I still remained on the outside, I would never become French. Much like this dedicated study, I have long been a student of Christianity. I have read the words, I have immersed myself in books and lectures and even surrounded myself with those who spoke and lived this language. I accepted that I would always be a student, an onlooker, that the promises did not include me. Like eating a crepe and wishing for a trip to Paris, I celebrated communion and dreamt of transformation by the Holy Spirit. I didn’t expect to ever go to France or feel something so mystical and reformative in my life.

Just as my initial study of French meant plodding through the lessons until one day, it just clicked, so it is with my relationship with God. I knew enough vocabulary to pass, I even memorized the rules. Yet with all of my dedication, the language did not cross from words on the page to living within my soul. I pondered the meaning of phrases like “relationship with Jesus” and “born again” and thought they belonged to a theology that was not mine, like the mixture of french and cajun, merely a blending of two worlds that I didn’t want to study.  I was happy in my little interpretation and scoffed at the others. Don’t we often marginalize that which is foreign to our understanding? Watching these zealots who claimed a different understanding, a richer knowledge of this Jesus guy, I secretly wondered if they were just pretending, if they really had something I didn’t, which was the true path of believers.

I know that timing is often the critical piece, that rushing or avoiding rarely change the outcome, that God is in control. Also, just showing up, much like the Alcoholics Anonymous adage of “fake it until you make it” is necessary. Attending all those french classes long before it sunk into my psyche, going over and over it when it didn’t make sense, that very showing up allowed me to be available when it all clicked. Showing up to do God’s work, trusting those who have taught me along the way, listening with an ever more open heart to what I hear at church, I was laying the ground work for the moment it all coalesced. All those years of being on the outside but sitting amongst believers, layers and layers of learning took place. Still, until I was desperate enough, until I was laid completely bare, my wall stayed in place and I didn’t let the words become life.

I sat in her office and she spoke God to me in my pain, as I laid out all of my shame and brokenness, she offered up kindness and the Promises of God. She clearly knows God intimately, she introduced me to her best friend and invited me to be friends as well. She spoke a language I have heard before but my soul was not ready, I thought the words were merely letters strung together and not a melody of hope and joy and grace. She sang safety and welcoming to me. As my soul was opened, she said I had a choice, that God would not steal or violate me, that He was waiting for me to welcome Him in. The clarity with which I saw the wall I had erected, that I sat on one side. longing for more and God sat waiting just over the barrier, longing for me, I understood the nature of God immediately, finally. Like the sounds of my french teacher finally working within my brain to mean more than random notes, I got it, it all clicked.

When I was studying this new language in school, I had a desire to experience the culture. Visits to french restaurants, learning to create my own french baked goods, I wanted to experience it deeper. The same is true now, I want more and more. I want to reread every book I have ever opened, I want to replay all the important conversations with pastors and discerners and sharers of the faith. Exploring relationships and realities through this new lens, the colors are rich and promising and full of light. My self-imposed hazing before finally gaining admittance to the fraternity/sorority of faith, I know now that time was necessary. My pastor wondered aloud one day whether we satisfy the needs of those who are searching just enough that they don’t cry out for Jesus. This message has resonated as I look at the ministries I am involved in, as I consider whether I am showing Jesus to people or merely involved in good works. Still, those ministerial efforts have led me deeper and deeper into the pool of believers, surrounded me with those who do know Jesus, an immersion that leaves me thirsty for more.

I still cry out, I do want more. I am learning the new language and often much is lost in translation. I forget important truths and wonder if I ever will be fluent in faith. Yet I come back to class, back to the sanctuary, back to stories of redemption and restoration and pray that one day I will be fluent in hope. Immersed  in the culture of believers, I am trusting that soon my wall will completely fall, that I will fully surrender my words of sorrow and shame and regret and speak out with confidence about a new tomorrow. Until then, my homework of hearing the voices who bear witness to truth, of watching those who walk with confidence in faith, of studying examples from long ago and last week, all bring me closer to sharing my own voice. Baptized in the faith, dunked under the waters of truth, I know God is waiting for me to emerge and take that first breath of life, to live fully into His language. Soon, soon.

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