In high school, I had to take a foreign language. Well, since we were homeschooled, we had a lot of freedom to choose what language we wanted to take. Well, I decided to take New Testament (Koine) Greek. My brother, however, wanted to take sign language. Well, our preacher taught me Greek, and I am very grateful for that opportunity, and we found a Baptist church not far away who offered classes on Sign Language. We all went as a family, and I LOVED it. Maybe it was because sign language is a very emotional language, and I am not by nature a very emotional guy, so it allowed me to express myself. Maybe it was because it gave me a reason to talk with my hands, or maybe because it allowed me to communicate with a completely different group of people. I don’t know, but I do know I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Well, after having learned a little sign language, enough to barely communicate, one Sunday evening a Deaf gentleman walked into our church. I will never forget meeting Robert. He was missing a few teeth, always wore the same pair of coveralls, and had one of the greatest smiles you have ever seen. He was able to get a piece of paper to write a question and ask someone there if they knew sign language. Well, they didn’t, and it seems nobody else did either, except me, and I could just barely communicate. My parents told me, “It looks like it is up to you!” I was terrified to say the least. I excused myself, found an empty classroom and started to pray, hard.
Now, if you don’t know much about Sign Language, it isn’t just “English on your hands”, especially for people born Deaf. It is a true language, with it’s own syntax, it’s own grammar, and even it’s own regional “accents”. I had the equivalent of 1 or maybe 2 semesters of high school sign language, and I was thrown into the difficult job of interpreting, not just the sermon, but jokes (which often don’t translate well), songs (O Sacred Head Now Wounded, Angels Prostrate Fall, How Does that Visage Languish, which once was Bright as Morn, Here I Raise my Ebenezer, On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I stand and cast a wishful Eye), and deep theological ideas (sanctification, holiness, etc). To make it that much harder, in order to interpret you have to listen to what is being said, translate the idea, while listening to the next thing being said. So, what you are saying is not what is being said at that moment. Plus, in order to get the context right, you have to “be in tune” with the speaker and kind of know which direction he wanted to go. It was a lot for a 15 or 16 year old. The beautiful part was an older man in his 60’s or 70’s mentoring a young man 15 or 16 learning sign language. Robert would help me with words and ideas, and, because of him, I became very fluent in Sign Language. In fact, again, because of him, people would even ask if my parents were deaf (which is a compliment in the world of Sign Language, because it means Sign Language was your “first” language). Again, in the Providence of God, because of Robert, my deaf friend, I learned sign language, which allowed Christy and I the opportunity in college to start a deaf ministry, but that’s another post.
Ok, so that was a long introduction to get to this point in the story. Oh well! So, as Robert was teaching me Sign Language and about the Deaf culture, I was going with some of the church leaders on visits to see him, because they needed someone to translate. I remember one visit we made to his government assisted apartment. He had asked for food from time to time from the pantry at church, and would never take very much, just a few things to help out, so I knew that things, at least sometimes, were a little tight. Well, when we got to his house, it was sparsely furnished. In fact, for the deacon that went with me and myself to have a place to sit, he had to pull out a couple of cheap folding chairs. Much of his furniture was covered in newspaper, as if to cover holes or torn upholstery. I understood now why he always wore the same coveralls, he couldn’t afford much more. But he was happy. He would tell us of waking up in the morning and going for a walk. When he walked, he picked up trash around the apartment building, and always had a smile for everyone.
Finally, one day I had the courage to ask this man, who seemed to have almost nothing, what it was like being Deaf. I had been nervous to ask such a question, because, for many people, being Deaf is a disability, and I didn’t know if he would be offended. Interestingly enough, he seemed honored that I would ask, and he smiled. He gave me this answer.
Some people are really bothered by being Deaf. They ask God and ask God, please let me hear. Not me. I am satisfied being Deaf. I am content. You have to hear the chaos around you. You have to hear all the noise, the traffic, the sirens, the yelling, the crying, it is all chaos for you. My life is peaceful. My life is silent. I don’t have all the distractions you do. I can concentrate. I am not angry with God that I am Deaf. I thank God that I am Deaf.
Over the years that encounter has changed my perspective, A LOT. It was one of the first real life encounters I had with having to deal with the Sovereignty of God directly, and his attitude has changed the way I look at a lot of things. More than that, I had to face someone who was truly content, by choice! Robert made me see things very, very differently.
I Corinthians 13 says that, even if I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but don’t have love… You see, I may have all kinds of Spiritual gifts. I may be able to do all kinds of things in the service of God. I may be articulate in many languages, my gifts may make me “valuable” to the Kingdom of God, but if I don’t have love, and I don’t reflect Christ’s love, especially to those closest to me, then all my good things are nothing but a noise gong, or a clanging cymbal. It is all pointless, noise and chaos. It would be better to be Deaf than to have to hear all of those pointless, needless sounds.
Christ had all knowledge, and can obviously speak in all different kinds of languages. After all He is the Word. But his love was perfect. The words He speaks in all languages are words of love, words of calling people to Himself, words of hope. So, it doesn’t matter what language I say it in, if I am not reflecting Christ, my words have no point. Not only do they have no point, but they are a pain, annoying, frustrating and irritating.
Let me see if I can illustrate. If I tell my wife I love her, but never have time for her, my words are annoying. If I tell my children I love them, but don’t show them, my words are annoying. If I say everything right, and can say it fluently, articulately, smoothly and cleverly, but don’t show it, it is not only pointless, but annoying and aggravating.
Jesus said, that there he loved His disciples, He said that he came to give them life, he said that a true friend sacrifices for friends, He said that He is a good shepherd, He said that He is the way truth and life, He said that obeying God means loving each other, He said that we should love each other, the same way He loves us.
Here’s the difference between what Jesus did, and what we do. He died for us, while we were enemies. I don’t die for my wife as often as I should. However, I sure do want her to sacrifice for me. I mean, after all, shouldn’t she, but I don’t want to die for her. But, that’s what Jesus did, He died that He could give us life. We need to imitate His death daily that we can give our spouse blessing.
Robert taught me a lot about being Deaf, and Sign Language. Most of all, Robert taught me about being content. I learned from him what it means to be satisfied with what you have. Robert taught me more than contentment, but to find joy in what God has given, even in the silent world of Deafness.
But God has taught me that it would be better to not have to hear the chaos, noise, clamor, obnoxious sounds of my voice, if I do all kinds of wonderful things “for Christ”, but fail to SHOW love to those around me, especially my wife.
May God help me to silence my gong and my cymbal and show love, and more importantly, show Christ to my wife.