I like gospel stories that have Jesus in real dialogue with the disciples in which the earnest, bright, engaged, intentional Jesus tries out yet a different way to make his point In today’s story he is saying, “Look, I know you are going to get this someday – that the Kingdom has come and how that is going to rock your world, how it will rock THE world. It’s my job right now to to break through the barriers in your mind and heart so you understand this, preferably sooner rather than later. Evidently what I’ve tried so far, hasn’t registered, so, here’s another parable. Try this one: the kingdom is like a mustard seed…do you get it?”
The first response I have to this gospel reading, is, yes, I get it, Jesus. The parable of the mustard seed works for me – along with nearly all the other parables with which you teach.
But the Spirit didn’t have me hang out with the parable, today. Instead, I flashed on this: Words, in general work for me, Jesus, as a way of understanding you, of knowing from whence I came, of knowing your will, of knowing grace. That’s why I love your Word. In it, I am in you, and I am known, loved, know and love.
With this I paused. I thought about how hard it has been to communicate the truth of the gospel to my children by using the Word which speaks to me so profoundly as a primary means for speaking to them in the same way. And I wondered if the Spirit was encouraging me to find a new way of communicating with them the love and truth of our Abba Father.
With pause button pushed, the Spirit whispered something about love and truth and language and parents (Father’s Day) and teaching and children and I came out on the other end wondering about the responsibility we, who are raising up a flock – whether our own children or God’s church – have to never give up but keep at it as Jesus does, and not accept that some of our flock won’t ever be able to hear or know the truth. We have to keep at it – find the love language that will connect with our flock at their heart so they will know.
“Love Language” is a term that was coined by author and MFT Gary Chapman to describe a primary way of expressing and interpreting love. In his book, The Five Love Languages he delineates the five different ways as
- Words of Affirmation
- Quality Time
- Receiving Gifts,
- Acts of Service
- Physical Touch
As I recall, one of the experiences that lead Chapman to create the new “Love Language” therapeutic model and book was one that had taken place in his sons youth, but when shared later in a family therapy session, revealed vast interpretative differences that had ushered into the family dynamic much disconnect and discord. As they shared their different interpretations, Chapman realized the import of knowing the love language of the other – especially if the other is someone you are responsible for raising up and teaching – so that the truth of something you are trying to communicate to them can be heard, felt, and believed. Do they get it?
As I recall, the story went this way. Chapman, the father, was on a bike ride with his two sons. The younger fell off the bike down into a ravine. The fall took the son a good way down the hill from the father and older brother and though he was not injured the bike chain had loosed from the frame and would have to be carried back up the hill Eventually, the son managed to remove the broken wheel and made it up the hill to rejoin the father and brother, who went onward on their bikes, while he walked the remainder of the way.
Older Son reaction: Once it was clear the younger brother was okay he just waited, somewhat impatiently, for him to return to the bike path so they could complete the ride. He had been thrilled – honored, even – that his father had made time to join him at something he enjoyed doing. This accident of his brother’s was cutting into that time, now and he was a bit irritated with the younger brother for even coming along in the first place.
Father: First, he stopped and assessed the situation and could see that his son looked to be okay. Then he asked questions that would tell him whether or not he had broken any bones, or had any deep cuts – Boy Scout like questions. Then, after gathering that information, and learning that the bike was damaged and would have to be carried back up the hill and walked home, he determined to help his son through this challenge with words of encouragement. He determined to use the incident as a teaching moment – another opportunity to encourage his son, who so often underestimated his own resolve, to get up on his own and get back to the path – get back on the horse, so to speak, deal with the consequences of accident. He knew once his son got up, picked up the damaged bike, walked it up the hill and home his son would feel as strong and proud inwardly as he did about him. The son only needed to hear from the father that he believed in him, that he knew he could do this on his own without help from the father or older brother. Come on, son, just do it! You can and I know it. Get up, pick up that bike, and get up the hill!
Younger Son: After sitting up after the fall, he was hurting and he wanted help. He saw his father up above, not making a move towards him, but asking questions. He saw his brother, alongside the father, likewise, not coming down to him. The younger son felt so alone. He didn’t want to come on this bike ride, anyway – it was too much for him and he was fearful about not being able to keep up with his older brother and father who seemed to never fail, let alone fall. He knew he could probably get up – that he wasn’t seriously injured, but he wanted help. He needed his father to care enough to come check him out personally. All he could hear from his father, was the familiar, “come on son, you can do it…you can get up here – I believe in you,” and he thought to himself how his father didn’t really know him at all, didn’t love him because if he did, he would have come down the hill right away and hugged him, and helped him and maybe even, carried the back back up the hill for him.
Ouch. Love. His younger son just didn’t believe his father knew him, let alone loved him. The love language of encouragement, of can-do, of rise above which his father believed was the fullest expression of love he could give his children, was just lost on the younger son. All he wanted from his father as he lay in that ditch, was for him to rush down to him, hold him to make sure eye to eye that he was okay. That way he would have known his father loved him. That way of expressing love would have broken through his hurting heart and the truth would have been known.
We know we are known and loved if_____________, fill in the blank. For the older son it was the language of Time. For the younger son, the language of Touch. And for the father, the language of Words of Affirmation. Apparently none of them were on the same wave length for much of the sons’ childhoods. They eventually got it – knew they were loved – once the father began to realize his Words of Affirmation expression just weren’t cutting through. He learned to mix it up. Try new things. Figure out what the love languages of his two sons and how to speak to it.
This is what I think Jesus was doing today. Mixing it up. Trying out a new parable. He just never gives up.
And on this Father’s Day, I think the Spirit is encouraging me with Words of Affirmation (because that IS my love language, WORDS) that to all I am responsible in some part for raising up and teaching the truth of God’s saving grace, I won’t give up. I’ll keep at it to locate the love language for each of them – parable, one-on-one time, an embrace, a laying on of hands, prayer, a blog post (?)…whatever God intends it to be, I trust it will come and in God’s time, they will get it.