Speaking a new language

A couple months ago, my third-grade son went through a phase in which he incorporated his “Caesar’s English” words into his conversations. Even though the words were correct, it was strange to hear such big words come out of his mouth. During the high school honors night, which was three hours long, he leaned over, sighed, and repeated over and over, “This is tedious.” And in spite of the fact that the kids being honored were amazing and impressive, I had to agree. A few days later, he talked about what would happen “if the anger pervaded his body” and about how languor creeps over him at night. As a word person myself, I love the way he plays with language, tries out the words, sees how they sound and how they work together. The “new” words sound funny to us — very conspicuous and out of place because we don’t hear them very often. But they’re right, accurate, and appropriate. If we know what they mean.

However, sometimes people use words we don’t know. Have you ever suffered through a conversation in which someone uses the same word, over and over, and you have no idea what they’re talking about? But you feel too stupid to ask? When a whole lesson or conversation hinges on a concept that you don’t understand, it leaves you feeling angry and frustrated and embarrassed — and convinced you’re in the wrong place.

Many of us try out a new language when we get into church. We talk about our Christian walks, say we’re children of the King, that we’re born again and saved and were lost in sin before we found Jesus. There’s nothing wrong with that. And if you know what those things mean, the expressions are entirely accurate. But if you’re not immersed in the culture of the Christian church, the words and phrases jump out at you, awkward and obvious. In our effort to show that we belong, I think sometimes we unintentionally push away those who don’t go to church. They don’t have a clue what those words actually mean (covered by blood? — yuck!), and at face value they sound downright weird (if you found Jesus, was he lost?). Because of the confusion the words create, they become more and more convinced they don’t belong. So they decide to stay far away.

It’s good and right to talk about the ways our lives have changed since God became a part of them. And it’s wonderful to tell people how real He is and who He is. But just remember that not everyone knows the language. Don’t talk down to people, just think about what you’re saying. A good friend talks about, not when she was saved or born again, but when she started to fall in love with Jesus. Instead of pushing me away, that makes me want to know more. I want to hear the rest of her story. And I hope I can phrase things in ways that make people want to hear mine. Because each one of our stories is also His story, and those are the words people long to hear.


Dina said...

Very good point. For many, the "Christian lingo" is not only unusal to them, but for most of the unbelievers it's completely foreign.

I'm always reminded to "meet people where they are" and often my speech must take on a different sound.

Good post.

Doug said...

Yes, thanks for the post. With our Christian language we can make things sound much more mysterious than it is.