At four years old, I had found my life’s goal. I knew my calling. I wanted to be just like my Papa.
Now at that point, I had no idea what my Papa actually did, so my attempts at emulating didn’t include his career path or interactions with the outside world. Rather, I developed the classic “monkey see, monkey do” mentality, doing my utmost best to observe and imitate his every move.
For instance, my Papa shaved his face, so I wanted to shave my face. And like the good Papa he was (and still is), he gave me a fake bronze razor and unlimited (until he learned a lesson and made it limited) access to his Barbasol shaving cream. Papa made coffee every morning, so I helped him make coffee in the morning (I became the official pusher of the “on” button, which I intelligently deemed the “pretty light”). Papa read the newspaper in our orange-and-brown flowered (yay 1970’s!) easy chair, so I read the newspaper in the orange-and-brown flowered easy chair. There was just one tiny problem, though:
I couldn’t read.
Now, to the four-year-old me, that was no big deal. After a minute or two, I got bored and moved onto more exciting things… like ponies. And luckily, my illiteracy didn’t last much longer. While homeschooling the now five-year-old version of me, my saintly mother taught me to read. And after finally conquering the difficult words like “was” and “though” (who decided to make the “s” sound like a “z”? and what imbecile decided to make the “ugh” silent even though it makes up half of the word?), I could read. Granted, my skill wasn’t advanced enough to tackle the Kansas City Star quite yet, but I was well on my way.
For some reason, that memory of the newspaper and the flowered chair has stuck with me over the years. In fact, it has even become one of my more vivid childhood memories. Occasionally, I find myself pondering it. What was I thinking as I looked at that newspaper? And how did the words look before I could understand what they said? Try as I might, I couldn’t transport my mind back to that time and place. I couldn’t remember my impressions. But then, I had an epiphany.
Jetzt muss ich ein Bisschen auf Deutsch schreiben. Und ein Bisschen mehr… und ein Bisschen mehr… Ja, das ist genug.
Chances are, you probably didn’t understand that at all. Maybe you caught a word or two (or thought you caught a word or two), but unless you copied and pasted it into an online translator (or happen to have studied German, which is highly unlikely), you were clueless. You may have known it was German, but you had no idea what it said.
*LIGHTBULB!!! That’s how English looks (with fewer capital letters) when you don’t know how to read! It’s like a foreign language! Suddenly my lifelong (minus 4 years) question had been answered. And naturally, I was super excited, or should I say, “total aufgeregt”? 😉
Now that I knew what English looked like to illiterate people, I had a new musing: What does English sound like if you can’t understand it? Fortunately, I happened to pose this question to my friend John Box who had an immediate answer. True to his super smart, full-of-random-yet-useful-knowledge form, he sent me a video of an Italian TV show episode. On this show, the actors sing and dance to an “English” song, which is actually not English at all. Instead, it’s gibberish words strung together to sound just like English. It’s bizarre. You have to watch it (first without subtitles, then with them). Anyway, after viewing the video (and sharing it with multiple people), I had my answer; I had experienced English as a non-English speaker. Can you say, “Mama Mia!”? 😉
So why am I sharing this with you? That, my friend, is a very good question. But don’t worry; I think I have at least a decently good answer. And if I don’t, feel free to whack me with a newspaper (but please let me read it when you’re done). Okay, here goes…
Our relationship with God is a lot like learning to understand or read a new language. Yeah, I know that sounds kind of weird, but hear me out. Have you ever read the Bible? If so, have you ever felt like it was just a bunch of holy gibberish full of funny names (my personal favorite: Dodo) or impossible-to-pronounce places (like ”Adramyttium”? Or have you flipped to one of the Gospels and thought, “What in the Hades is Jesus saying?” Well, if you have, you’re not alone. I have definitely been there and, to be honest, I still find myself there often. But just like my mom so kindly taught me to read, I’m not permanently lost in the land of endless “begats”. And who is this tutor? I’m so glad you asked! He’s immortal; He’s invisible; He’s none other than…
The Holy Spirit.
That’s right; this often-forgotten, easily overlooked, frequently misunderstood Third Person of the Trinity is here to help you out. In fact, Jesus even called the Holy Spirit “the Helper” when He promised His coming to the disciples. In John 14:26, Jesus tells the disciples not to worry because “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” And that’s exactly what He does… and so much more.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t just help us understand what Jesus says and how to follow Him; He empowers us to live as God’s children. He gives us the strength to overcome temptation, He corrects our course when we start to veer off track into sin, and He empowers us to live the way Christ calls us to live. And unlike a human tutor or personal trainer, He doesn’t just leave us at the end of the lesson. No, on the contrary, He lives inside of us. That’s right; if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, the SPIRIT OF GOD HIMSELF lives INSIDE OF YOU (Ezekiel 36:25-27). If that doesn’t blow your mind, it should! He is constantly working in you, molding you, and transforming you more and more to look like Jesus (Romans 8:29).
But that’s not all. The Holy Spirit is a Person, not just an impersonal force that Luke Skywalker hears from Hans Solo should be with him. The Holy Spirit has emotions just like you and I do, and He cares about you. It breaks His heart when we choose not to follow what He knows is best for us. When we pick our own way, we bring Him sorrow. Not because He wants us to live boring, prudish lives without any fun, but He understands what true freedom—true life—looks like, and He desperately wants us to have it. But He doesn’t stop there. No, He helps us to achieve it! He makes the Bible come to life as He reveals its meaning to us; He opens our hearts to the things of God and shows us what to do, and He helps us live He’s our heavenly tutor, our supernatural “Hooked on Phonics”, and He lives inside us, teaching, prompting, and perfecting us. Gradually, day-by-day and in His perfect timing, He transforms us to be more and more like our heavenly Daddy… But don’t worry; you won’t have to learn to shave. 😉