At fifteen months, our granddaughter is communicating so well and developing a vocabulary to go along with hands-out “pick me up” and pursed lips “I don’t want to eat that.” Our grandson will be three years old in August and offers a running commentary on life. Both children exercise complete dominion over their grandparents.
Poets and pathologists, studied experts and loving parents marvel at the phenomena of human language. Language is one of our good God’s greatest gifts to humanity and one of its greatest responsibilities. Both tablets of the Law speak to the responsible use of language – prohibitions against using language about God in a vain way and against using language about our neighbor in a false way.
Language is a gift from God. During the too few days in Michigan we watched and listened and loved as our grandchildren continued to unwrap this great gift.
Caleb, the soon to be three-years old, uses language the way most soon to be three year-olds do. Constantly and not always correctly. And that’s okay. The tail fin on his favorite toy airplane was waiting Daddy’s repair work and several times, once an hour or so, we were informed that “it broked.” We could have told Caleb about the proper form for the past tense of an irregular verb, but we did not. “Broked” from the mouth of a soon to be three-year old is too endearing to correct. For now. Sometime soon, not long before or after his third birthday, Caleb will get “break, broke, broken” down correctly; he’s still unwrapping the gift of language. Sadly, we will need to allow him to leave the sweet mistakes of toddler language behind. Or not so sadly. Five year olds and 45 year olds do best not to speak of favorite toys or gadgets of having broked. It’s no longer cute.
On Sunday the whole church will read the faith statements of our eight confirmation students. We publish them unhesitantly. Some will look at the faith-filled words of these ninth graders and smile, struck by the sweet innocence of the words (and maybe wondering if they might be able to articulate their faith so well). Others will hear the incorrect usage of theological grammar and biblical syntax and wonder if someone ought to correct the kids.
Sunday will be a better day for smiling than correcting. Like Caleb who will learn soon enough about “break, broke and broken,” these young disciples will learn soon enough the vocabulary and grammar of faith. If.
Caleb will learn the intricacies of the English language because he is surrounded by parents and friends who speak like adults. He will, in time, as the Apostle says, “give up childish ways.” If our confirmands continue to be surrounded by parents and friends who know the language of faith because they know the founder and perfecter of our faith, they will learn the vocabulary and grammar that opens them to new understandings of their experience of and relationship with the One who is the Word made flesh. In fact, such language opens them to new experiences of and a closer relationship with the One who is the Word made flesh.
Sunday is a day of joy and celebration. We praise God for faithful parents, Sunday School teachers, youth group advisers – the family of faith called the church – who have been means of grace in the spiritual nurture of the children of our church.
Monday is a day to continue to encourage growth. Where the confirmation students still speak like children, even with a toddler’s vocabulary of faith, we will continue to model by what we say and what we do the deeper understandings of the foundations of our faith and meanings of our encounters with the Living God. And occasionally we will correct bad grammar and misused vocabulary. Because we love them.
On Sunday some of us will wonder if we might be able to articulate our faith as well as the confirmation students do in their faith statements. For all of us there is still much vocabulary to learn and grammar to master, and without it we will not communicate with God or about God as we should.
There is no excuse for those who claim the name Christian to continue to speak toddler language. It’s not cute. When we see Him face to face, when faith, hope and love abide in new and better ways, the still more excellent way, we will need the language that will allow us to experience it all. On Monday and then on that day when all things are made new.
On Sunday evening, a new in-home Bible study, “Meet God Face to Face,” begins with a look at the Gospel of John. Peg and Brian Donnelly will be the gracious hosts and facilitators. What better way to learn to speak of faith than with a group of friends on the same journey. Why not attend? The following Sunday morning we begin our 8:01 series for this summer, “The Minor Prophets: A Major Message.” Why not attend? More information on both studies may be found here.