One mistake in Hebrew was all it took to send me into a vortex of depression. “After 25 years how can I still be blowing it?” I asked myself. Easy. Arrive at age 45, not born in the place, attempting to sort out sounds and letters and definitions. Most of the time, even if I’m not translating directly from English in my head, it still sounds like Hebrish, since my thought patterns were well-established by the time I set out to adopt our ancient but re-born tongue.
This single reality—struggling to function in a language apart from one’s natural expression—is a killer. And I’ve come to the conclusion that my God, who is truly IS merciful, is not at all bothered by my death to being articulate. Back in the pre-Israel days, I considered myself fairly articulate. Though I dropped out of college, I studied hard in high school and my mom was a teacher/educator, so it came naturally.
So my ego takes a pummeling in being uncertain about what word to use (often!) or using the wrong word (more than I’m aware). This humiliation, however, must be weighed against the same awkwardness experienced by none other than Moses himself. “O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Exodus 4:10).
When God answers Moses, I’m listening, suspecting that He’s not only speaking to Moses, but also to me. “So the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the LORD? Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say” (Exodus 4:11,12). The entire conversation turns on this point. God says “Look, Mo. I made you, watched over you, and am calling you. Don’t worry about how well you can talk. Without me you’d not be able to speak at all. If I’m with you, and you’re doing my stuff, that’s all you need.”
Of course we know how the story turned out. God did use Moses in a huge way, to bring Israel out of Egyptian slavery. Apparently all He needs is our availability. I may feel like a clutz. I may be convinced that I sound terrible. I may never want to speak a word in that language again, or talk to those people, or be in that situation. But God is not looking for linguistic prowess, He’s looking for full surrender, all-out availability. And He’s constantly bringing us to the realization that our best performance does not qualify us as His messenger. “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Yeshua haMashiach and Him crucified” (1Corinthians 2:1,2). Paul, too, was required to rely not on his verbal brilliance, but upon God’s grace. (see 2Corinthians 12:9,10 concerning the transformation of our weak points to His advantage.)
I hate being wrong. I hate sounding foolish. And I hate not being able to understand what people are saying. But God wants me to lean on Him, not on my native or developed abilities. Why is this so hard for us? I guess it’s human pride, the longing to “look good,” the need to be in control. The Lord looks for ways to free me from these chains. Does it mean I shouldn’t study, work at a new language—or any other skill that will help further His kingdom? Of course not. When I commit those inevitable blunders, though, there must be a better response than embarrassment, self-condemnation, or longing to give up altogether. The response that brings Heaven to earth is to know that He only chooses imperfect vessels. He has no other plan than to use me and you—-as flawed as we are. And being at peace with that, as His technique, we’ve already won the battle.