“Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity. Stay at your post reading Scripture, giving counsel, teaching. And that special gift of ministry you were given when the leaders of the church laid hands on you and prayed—keep that dusted off and in use.
Cultivate these things. Immerse yourself in them. The people will all see you mature right before their eyes! Keep a firm grasp on both your character and your teaching. Don’t be diverted. Just keep at it. Both you and those who hear you will experience salvation.”
(Paul’s first letter to Timothy 4:10 – 16 MSG)
Four of my grandchildren are in French Immersion schools. They all speak better French than I do, even the five-year-old.
I attended a school where French was taught conversationally and where only French was allowed to be spoken in French class. The experimental “immersion” method tested on us turned out to be much more effective than the traditional memorization of conjugation tables. I’ve used the words learned in that class to sing and to teach singing, but not as a part of regular conversation. Most of it has slipped away like the names of people from the past with vaguely familiar faces. I couldn’t assemble a grammatically correct essay en français if my life depended on it, not without supernatural intervention anyway.
When my granddaughter was only six, and in her second year of speaking only French all day at school, she asked me not to speak to her in my broken second language anymore. Part of the problem was the difference between my Parisian pronunciation and her Quebecois teacher’s accent, but more than that, she was simply more proficient.
“Grammie, do you mind not speaking French to me?” she said one day as I drove her to school. “I’m only a little kid and it’s embarrassing for me to correct a grown-up.”
She’s in high school now, writing short stories, giving speeches, and mastering courses in biology and mathematics, all in French. She has been immersed in the culture for ten years and doesn’t need to translate her thoughts like I do. She thinks in French as well as she thinks English. Perhaps better.
Last year I asked the Lord for a word that would show me where he was taking me now. In a dream, I saw the word “instill.” It means “to cause to enter, drop by drop.” I read and study as much as I am able. The quest for knowledge still provokes me to leave smoking pots of food on the stove while I look something up.
I believe the concepts the Lord has been teaching me about himself but, at times, they feel awkward and foreign. Effort is required to sit still as he instills a language of grace, love, and trust at a level where I can think differently and respond more automatically. (The delete key is the most worn key on my keyboard, I think.) I am learning a new language in which my actions are motivated by God’s love and not fear of condemnation. I’m learning to live in the freedom Jesus gave his life to get back for me.
This year, beyond the concept of instilling something into me, I realize there is more: the concept of instilling myself into the depths of his love. An immersion into his heart. A stepping into deeper experiences of his grace. Abiding in the place of rest he has prepared right in the middle of trying circumstances.
Standing on the familiar shore of rugged debate, theoretical platitudes, and pebbly doctrinal pickiness feels comfortably normal. What if I stop trying to understand everything and give up the need to prove myself “right” and instead trust Him to surround me and lift me up. What if I step into God’s culture and totally immerse myself in his grace. Will he hold me up? Teach me to breathe under water? Send a boat?
Sometimes I float. Sometimes I thrash about in a panic when I realize I’m in over my head and I don’t have all the answers. Then I remember Paul’s advice to Tim. “Just keep at it. Stay at your post. Read the scriptures. Don’t neglect the gifts God has given you.”
Maturity is something he brings about as I yield to his ways. For a person learning to let go of the baggage of a lifetime of trust issues, this is deep water.
This part of the journey is about more than the occasional Bible study class. This is about living, all day, with a new language, in a different culture than the one more familiar to me. At the moment I feel more quasi-lingual than bi-lingual. I’m trying not to compare myself to much younger people who are more advanced in understanding than I.
But I am learning.
And it’s true, you know. God is love.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small:
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
– -Isaac Watts