I don’t speak Spanish. As the move to Perú gets closer and closer, the pressure for me to learn is building. I took Spanish in High School but I didn’t really learn much and I certainly don’t remember any of what I learned six years ago. I’ve been listening to Spanish Radio for a while, and trying to practice the phonetics but I didn’t feel like I was really grasping the language. Instead, I’ve felt hopeless; I’ve been afraid I would never learn Spanish. But now in July I have been having weekly Spanish lessons over Skype. My professor, Luis was born in Lima, Peru and now lives here in the U.S. He has been teaching me the basics of Spanish, to express myself in the practical ways which I will need immediately. Lessons have been going well and I’m starting to believe that possibility of me one day speaking Spanish fluently might actually exist!
During my Spanish lessons, Luis has often told me that I am like a child learning to speak for the first time. Watching my 19 month old niece, Avery, begin to speak I believe I am understanding what he means. When Avery first says a word, the phonetics are so terrible that it hardly sound like the word she is trying to say. Yet, we know what she means. We repeat the word correctly reinforcing the proper pronunciation. In the same way Luis makes me repeat after him again and again, getting the pronunciation correct. Sometimes my ear is not attuned enough to even hear the difference in what I am saying but I just continue repeating. I imagine this is much the same feeling my niece has when she says pese … plese …. peas … until finally pl..ease … please. Not knowing exactly what she has done differently from pese to please, but knowing that when she finally gets to please everyone around her claps and cheers and she finally gets the cookie she wanted all along. I am in no way ashamed to admit, that when I finally achieve proper pronunciation Luis also cheers for me.
While normally I would take such excitement over something as simple as saying “Yo necesito el baño” or “I need the bathroom” to be derogatory and belittling, it has truly been encouraging to have a cheerleader. To learn Spanish Luis says I must approach it as Avery does. She doesn’t worry about how dumb she looks if she asks for water and it comes out wawa. She doesn’t worry should I say run instead of ran. She knows we’ll understand. It doesn’t matter that she might look uneducated or unimportant because she doesn’t know all the rules or the grammar. Instead, children just jump straight in. They make mistakes and they learn as they go. I have been working to think like a child, to express myself with the same simplicity, to try and be unafraid of making mistakes and unafraid of failing.
As I’ve been reflecting upon how I need to learn as a child, I have realize that it is not just when learning a new language that we should all seek to be like children, but also in our faith. The Bible speaks in many places about having the faith like a child. Christ himself says “Truly, I say to you whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Luke 18:17) When we receive God’s gifts as a child we receive them in faith. God has given us salvation through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. It is faith which receives this salvation and justifies us before God. Children receive everything from someone else. They are born totally dependent upon their mothers. They cannot survive on their own. They quickly learn that their parents provide for them. They trust them without doubt and they receive everything that their parents give them. God is the perfect father and we are to receive that which He gives us. God has blessed me with all that I have and he richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support it. He sees to our every physical need giving us clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home and all that we have. But He also gives us something so much more important than just these earthly needs.
Our Heavenly Father gives us Himself. Through His Word and Sacraments He comes to us, strengthening and preserving us in this life. In our baptism, our sins are forgiven we are rescued from death and the devil and we receive eternal salvation in Christ. God comes to us, in the water and we receive. In the Lord’s Supper God gives us His very body and blood. When we eat and drink we gain forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. These gifts of God are freely given to us, for no reason other than His divine fatherly love for us. Just as a father gives to his children all that he has for their wellbeing, God gives to us for our wellbeing. We are to do nothing other than be His children. As children we receive the gifts our father gives us and love him for giving them. This is what Christ tells us to do when He says to receive the kingdom of God as a child. We come before the Altar of the Lord, ready to receive knowing that we need the gifts God gives to us. For just as a baby cannot survive on its own, we cannot survive without the gifts that the Lord offers us. Without His mercy and forgiveness, we surely deserve death and damnation. Yet, Christ gives us His righteousness, we have only to receive it.
Yes, in both, learning Spanish and in faith we must learn to receive as a child does. We must put aside our pride and approach it with the humility of a child, gratefully receiving what we are given.