Being in a place where you don’t know the language is tough.
When we went to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary, Cassie and I took a trip to Europe. As you can imagine, it was GREAT! We visited France, Italy, Switzerland and yes, I got to go to Disneyland Paris, which was wonderful, but believe it or not it wasn’t my favorite place on our trip. My favorite was Venice. Walking along these narrow streets, seeing all the canals, and going over these interesting bridges; each step was awe-inspiring. It felt like with each step I was walking through history. Especially when we were outside of the Cathedral of St. Mark. Just knowing that the apostle Mark once also walked here, too, made me feel connected to something deeper. But my favorite part of being in Venice was feeding the pigeons in the Square outside of St. Mark’s. Yes, I said feed the pigeons. It was quite remarkable. I went up and bought a bag of feed from one of the vendors right there on the square and before I opened it the birds literally flew on top of me and landed all over my body. I have to admit I was really worried that my clothes would become a huge mess, because these are birds after all, but nothing happened. Nothing happened. I imagine that the birds realize what a sweet deal they have and they take all the new pigeons aside and tell them, “Hey, don’t mess it up for the rest of us. It only takes one bad bird to ruin this sweet deal.” I had five on one arm, four on another, three on my head, birds seemingly crawling up my pants, and it was weird but strangely cool. Definitely an experience to remember. We both loved Venice so much it made our list of places we need to go back to. But of all the places we visited, it was also the ONE I felt the most OUT of place in because I don’t speak Italian. The only Italian I knew was from watching Giada DeLaurentis on the Food Network. So you can imagine how difficult it was to figure out even the simple things like where the restroom is and what would be good to order from the menu. I had better luck talking with the pigeons.
I remember that it made me feel very vulnerable not to know the language.
I also felt alone in a sea of people. It was just me and Cassie, two lost souls floating in an ocean of people we couldn’t speak with. I would get filled with anxiety every time I needed to talk to someone and so the rare times I found a person who spoke English my face would just light up like a Christmas tree. I was so happy to even have the most difficult of conversations because they were in English. It made me filled with gratitude and I found myself open to whatever the person had to say. Because there is an instant connection with someone who can speak your language. They’re on YOUR side. They understand you, literally and in our hearts figuratively. And because we know how hard it is to learn another language, we are often filled with a brotherly love for someone who can talk with us when we are in a foreign place. The Bible relates to us a story about the importance of connecting to people through language in the book of Acts, so if you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, please go to Acts 2:1. Acts 2:1. Now, if you’ve been in church for a while, you’ve probably heard this passage many times, but it’s the passage that tells about the day of Pentecost. Pentecost was the day the Holy Spirit came and descended on the disciples of Jesus as Jesus had promised when he left. In the previous chapter right before he ascends into Heaven, Jesus tells them they would receive power when the Spirit came and the passage we are about to read reveals to us in part the power that Jesus was talking about.
1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs-we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”
So there they were, gathered together when this power just descended upon them.
Suddenly, they could speak in all sorts of different languages and they went out among the people and shared with them the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And we find out later on in the passage 3,000 were converted that day. And remember, this is before the Internet, before mass communication, before television, even before microphones and still 3,000 were converted in just that one day. And what was most amazing about this was that the people who were converted were people who spoke all different languages. The Bible tells us that they heard the sound of the Holy Spirit coming upon the disciples and all of them gathered together from hearing their language being spoken. They gathered together because they heard their native languages being spoken. Can you imagine that? You’re in a place where most people don’t speak your language and suddenly you hear all of these people talking in a language you understand. So they came out from everywhere and gathered together where this was happening, and the Bible lists about 16 different languages being spoken. And all by people who didn’t know them before that moment. And they heard the Word of God in their own tongue and they believed.
The very act of hearing the Word in their own tongue helped them to believe.
God could easily have turned the tables and just made everyone suddenly understand the disciples, but instead the Spirit did the opposite. And this act did not go unnoticed. First, it drew everyone’s attention that could hear the sound of the Spirit descending. It brought them together, all of these people who spoke different languages because they were curious to see who was suddenly speaking their native tongue. But more importantly, this was an act of love by God, because when someone takes the time to speak YOUR language, it’s a testimony to their willingness to meet you where you are and a powerful way to show the love of neighbor. It says they are devoted to reaching out to YOU. It says you are worth it. You are loved. And when people show love to us, it warms our hearts and makes us more receptive to what they have to say.
The thing is that language encompasses many things.
We have languages within languages – dialects and slang that differentiates us from region to region. Most of us in California call carbonated drinks “soda,” but in the Northeast they call it “pop,” and in the South you hear people asking for a “coke” (small “c”). Which would be confusing for us in the West where Coke is a specific drink instead of a generic term for carbonated beverage. Same thing about the evening meal. Out here we call it dinner, but in the South some people call it “supper” and use the word “dinner” to mean lunch. We also have different languages in our social circles. At work, with our friends, even in church we have different languages. We sing “hymns” instead of songs, we have a “narthex” instead of a lobby, we sit in “pews” instead of benches. We have different languages everywhere.
Even love has it’s own language and each of us speak it differently.
And if you want to connect with someone, really show them love, you need to speak THEIR love language. You need to make that effort to “speak” to them on their level, where they are. I think this is the one place where the Golden Rule has a little different meaning. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” might better be said as “Speak love onto others in the way they understand it best as you would want others to speak love to you as you understand it best.” Because if you keep treating them the way YOU want to be treated they won’t understand you’re loving them if they don’t speak that same language. You might as well be speaking Italian. Dr. Gary Chapman wrote about this in a book called “The Five Love Languages” where he hypothesized that people primarily connected to love in five ways – Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Physical Touch, Gift Giving, and Quality Time. And each of connects in different ways. So if you connect through Quality Time and your spouse connects through Gift Giving, she won’t care if you sit in the same room as her all night long. But if you give her a love letter or a flower she will feel loved. And it’s not right or wrong, but just different.
I found this out the hard way with Cassie.
When we celebrated our first Valentine’s Day together, it was about 10 months after we had first started dating and I was SO in love with her and I did what I thought I was supposed to do. I bought her a dozen red roses that I had delivered to her work so that the WHOLE WORLD would know how much I loved her. I thought for sure this would PROVE my love to her. And that night she told me how beautiful they were, but that I didn’t need to buy her flowers to show how much I loved her, and I thought, “How sweet of her to say that.” She was just being humble though and didn’t really MEAN it. After all, what woman doesn’t like getting a dozen red roses on Valentine’s Day? So a couple of weeks later, I brought her another dozen roses, just to show her that I loved her not only on Valentine’s Day but EVERYDAY. She smiled, thanked me again, and told me again that I didn’t have to do that. So after the THIRD time I brought her flowers… she dropped the whole humble act and just spit it out. She looked at me and said, “Look, I wish you wouldn’t waste your money like that. I’d rather you saved that money for our honeymoon or our wedding instead of buying me something that’s going to wilt and die in a couple of days.” I didn’t know what to say! This is what you’re supposed to do, right? You buy a girl gifts and she melts in your arms. That’s what’s supposed to happen. It’s in some book somewhere. That’s how you’re supposed to communicate love. It works in the movies, it works on television, and it’s worked for me in the past. I didn’t get it. What I didn’t realize was that receiving gifts wasn’t Cassie’s love language. For her, it was “Acts of Service.” That was what filled her love tank. When I cooked dinner for her, helped her by mowing the lawn, taking out the trash, when I DID things for her like that, she felt the most loved. Because for her, it was the self-sacrifice of my actions that expressed love to her and made her feel complete. Learning that she spoke a different love language really helped me to understand how best to communicate my love for her.
So what’s your love language?
What is it that makes YOU feel loved? Today, you can take the love language test for yourself and see what your love language is, and if you’re married or with someone special, it would be great to compare and see if you’ve been speaking TO that person or AT that person. Take it and find out for yourself that love language you identify with the most. The important part is understanding that we all don’t speak the same language. And to make people feel loved and to make people feel understood you have to be willing to learn to speak the way THEY speak. It doesn’t matter if you understand it or if you relate to it. It’s a matter of sacrificial love, of loving the way Christ loved us. Because when we do that, when we love each other enough to put the needs of others before our own, we fulfill God’s calling on our lives. As Jesus command us in John 13:34-35 – “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love another. By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.