Vocabulary and Communication
There are two seasons in Montana: winter and road construction. It’s not winter anymore, which means it’s currently road construction season.
This year, one of the main thoroughfares right in our little residential neighborhood has been under construction for several weeks.
It’s fine, except that my habit of taking this road is so strong that I am always headed that direction before I remember it’s closed. Last week, one of the kids was in the car with me as we set off:
“Hey, mom, the road by the waterpark is closed, remember?”
“Oh, right,” I slow to turn around.
“But, we when went to the waterpark Tuesday, Sarah’s mom went this way. You can turn by the turkey trail and drive by the houses.”
“Huh?” My family calls a little walking/bike path in town “the turkey trail.” The “turkey trail” begins at a road, but then meanders through a bit of a wooded area, next to a gully where there is no driveable road. Also, our entire neighborhood is residential, meaning: all there is is houses.
“Which way did you go?”
“Drive by.the.houses. Don’t turn around! We can go if we drive by. The. Houses. The HOUSES, mom!”
“Look, around you! There are houses everywhere!”
“THE HOUSES, MOM!”
I ignored the child and we took the detour road I knew would surely get us around the road construction. My child was unhappy that I did not act upon their suggested directions, but I couldn’t. I literally did not know which street they were talking about.
Too often, communication is like this. We know what we mean, but we don’t have the right vocabulary to actually convey that meaning to the person across from us. Worse yet, even when we know what we mean and do our best to convey it with the vocabulary we have, the words get twisted in the air and lodge themselves sideways in the recipient’s heart.
Sometimes, while we think we know what we mean, we actually don’t.
I was reading the account of Adam and Eve the other day for Bible study. Genesis 3 says, “The man and his wife were naked and they felt no shame.” This is literal, I believe. But I’ve begun to realize that it is deeper than literal.
Adam and Eve were fully known by God.
They were also fully known by each other. I am not just talking physically. I am talking, their deepest desires, dreams and beings were plainly visible to each other and their core self was fully accepted by one another.
What must it have been like, to never experience the frustration of miscommunication? To never use a series of words and immediately know that the person has not actually received what you meant? To be able to truly understand and be understood without work, without something going awry?
After they ate the fruit, they felt fear, shame and hurt. They literally ran and hid from God. They also hid from each other, covering themselves. Then they lied and blamed one another.
We all do that now, don’t we? Our human condition makes it inevitable that we experience a variety of pains. Both physical and deeper, emotional and spiritual pains. We spend a good portion of our lives creating ways to cover up our deepest desires to protect ourselves from these hurts, navigating who we can trust with what parts of ourselves (if we are courageous enough to keep trying), telling ourselves and others falsehoods and blaming others for things we ourselves have contributed to.
God’s heart was filled with pain in the Garden. One of the crowning achievements of His loving, brilliant, good and beautiful creative work had chosen to sever their intimate relationship with Him. We turned to walk down a dark path filled with confusion, violence and hurt. He could see it all, the terrible things, the innocence injured, the way even something simple like driving to the store will highlight our inability to really communicate with each other. He saw it all, and what was His response?
Knowing the fiery judgments of God recorded later in the Bible, I expect His immediate response to be: “do you have any idea what you have done!?! Do you know what this means?!?” I respond this way, when I am hurt and the consequences for someone’s foolish decision is permanent and awful. I expect the curses and consequences to be Jesus’ immediate reaction.
But Jesus — who knows all things — walked through the Garden in the pleasant cool of the day, knowing what it all meant, and called out, “Adam, where are you?”
He still calls out. He walks through this unpleasant and sad world and calls to each one of us, “where are you?”
The lyrics of a Steffany Gretzinger song capture this poignantly:
Come out of hiding, you’re safe here with me;
There’s no need to cover what I already see;
No need frightened by intimacy;
Just throw off your fear and come running to me.
We don’t have the perfect vocabulary to respond to Jesus. We don’t know ourselves well enough to come fully out of hiding. God must teach us — through His word, the Bible and in community with other Christians — but as we take our tentative steps, He moves closer. Jesus does not misunderstand us, even when we do not have the perfect words to tell Him where we think we should go around the detour.
Let’s come out of hiding, friend. We are safe here with Him.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24).