Recently 8-year-old Gabriela (who is about 4 years old developmentally and is prone to being quite off-the-wall in her general speech and re-telling of daily events) commented to me across our large dining room table as several of our other kids were arriving home from school, her face all scrunched up and her arms waving about wildly:
“Ma! Isn’t that right that this morning you grabbed that piece of bread and poured glue all over it?” Her stubby, uncoordinated hands mimicked the action of pouring glue all over an imaginary slice of bread as she smiled big.
12-year-old Gleny walked through the dining room door in her school uniform and too-full backpack in tow, overhearing her little sister’s odd comment. She glanced over at me and rolled her eyes in response to the little one’s crazy tale. Glue on a sandwich?
Gabriela continued, unaware that anyone else was listening to her: “And Ma! You – you grabbed that bread and put…put…what’s that called? What’d you put all over it?” Her enthusiasm grew with each passing moment.
I glanced up from where I was folding the clothes, a little grin growing on my face, and I helped her out: “Deodorant.”
“Dodorat! Yeah! And then! And then – you, Ma, you picked up the bread and you poured hydrada – what’s it called?”
I continued folding clothes and smiling. I knew Gleny was staring at me in disbelief, but I didn’t look at her. “Hydrogen peroxide. ”
“Hydraden peroside! Yeah. You poured it all over the bread, and then you asked who wanted to eat it!” She wagged a short finger back and forth and said, “Not me!” Her giggle grew and overtook her small frame as her body shook with delight. She repeated, “Not me! Nobody wanted to eat it!”
A moment passed as little Gabriela paused to recall other details.
Her eyes lit up. “And then, Ma, you stomped on the cellphone and broke it! I saw you!”
Gleny, who had grabbed her lunch from the kitchen and began making her way toward Gabriela and I at the table, had the strangest expression on her face as she wondered why on earth I was encouraging little Gabriela in her odd fantasy. She glanced at me again, and I just smiled innocently without interrupting Gabriela nor defending her.
What Gleny didn’t know was that her oddball little sister who has a very real struggle with lying and tends to ‘stretch’ the truth may not have been as off-the-mark this time as she might have thought…
Earlier that morning in our twice-weekly Bible study time with all of our students and Christian laborers (Gleny and two of our other children were not present because this year they have been attending a local private school) I had wanted to make a point. I knew that many of our students and laborers were growing in the truth of God’s Word due to distinct character transformations we’ve seen and sincere comments of faith people have shared with me, but I felt frustrated that frequently as we came together on Tuesday and Thursday mornings the majority of the people seemed to have ‘forgotten’ what we had learned together in the prior meeting. Nearly every Tuesday and Thursday as I enthusiastically asked what they remembered from the prior Bible Study, I was frequently met with blank stares and discouraging shrugs as our students would murmur, “I don’t remember.”
You don’t remember? You don’t remember that just two days ago we talked extensively about the joy-filled life, that God expects us to live day by day giving Him thanks and rejoicing in Him – even in the midst of difficulties — because in Him we have a hope that cannot be altered, an Eternal Father who has invited us to share His entire Kingdom with Him, and He Himself has paid our entrance with His Son’s own blood? Must we start again from ground zero, say it all again because you’ve ‘forgotten’?
So I got a bit creative and entered our Bible study time with some special supplies. As we finished our time of praise and worship, Darwin leading us on the keyboard, I took my place along one of the long wooden benches in our rustic dining room and informed everyone very plainly, “Okay, go ahead and open up your Bibles to the book of Philipians. We’re gonna keep reading chapters two and four about the importance of rejoicing in the Lord at all times.”
I grabbed a children’s book and held it upside down in my hands, very seriously searching the contents for Philippians chapters two and four.
As my brow furrowed in concentration and my fingers flipped through the upside-down pages, the atmosphere in our concrete-floored dining room suddenly fell awkward as several silent moments passed.
Then, two or three brave souls began to giggle. Then, everyone.
I looked up, an utterly surprised expression plastered across my face, and asked, “Well what on earth are you laughing at? Open up your Bibles!”
Someone said, “Uh…that’s not a Bible.” More giggles sprinkled about.
I pretended to be taken aback. I turned the book around and began investigating the cover carefully, “Well, how on earth do you know that?” I squinted my eyes and searched for clear evidence among the large drawings and bold font on the bookcover.
“Well, you people, I certainly didn’t tell you just now that this wasn’t a Bible? You mean, at some point in your life someone taught you what a Bible looks like, and, based on that knowledge, you were able to decifer just now – without any problems whatsoever – that this, in fact, is not a Bible?”
Everyone around the circle nodded slowly as they stared at me, slightly confused. Man, she’s talkin’ weird.
“Dang!” I sighed, impressed by their extremely accurate use of past knowledge, and closed the book. I took one last good look at it as I turned it upside down, inspecting it one more time. “And you mean, you didn’t forget? I mean, I imagine they taught you quite a while ago, or was it just this morning that someone reminded you what a Bible looks like?”
The majority of the roughly 30 people in attendance just stared with a couple verbally affirming that, yes, in fact, they were taught long ago what a Bible is and isn’t and that they had not forgotten the valuable piece of information since then.
I put the book to one side, shaking my head in amazement, and I continued onward, murmuring to myself, “Wow. They didn’t forget. Man, they’ve got a good memory…”
I suddenly changed the topic.
“Look, I’m real sorry, but I didn’t have time to eat breakfast before Bible Study and I’m really hungry, so if you don’t mind I’m gonna go ahead and eat real quick.” I pulled out a couple pieces of wheat bread and placed them on a bright blue plastic plate in my lap as I looked at all the blank faces around the oblong rectangle, seeking everyone’s approval.
Everyone just stared at me, somewhat confused – was this truly the appropriate time to be eating breakfast? – but no one protested.
I opened the two slices of bread as if I were about to prepare a sandwich and began applying the ingredients little Gabriela had quite accurately recalled – glue, deodorant, hydrogen peroxide. (She forgot to mention the q-tips that I sprinkled in between), and then I cut the gooey sandwhich into four pieces with a pair of scissors. Anybody want a slice?
Nearly everyone pulled their head back in disgust, voicing the absurdity of my offer. “Gross! No!”
My jaw dropped open. “W-what? You don’t want a slice? I mean, I’ll share it with you. C’mon.”
“No way! You put glue all over it! And…deodorant!” A riot was breaking out as many voices chimed in at once. Who on earth would voluntarily eat a sandwich like that?
“Well, now what do you mean you don’t want to eat glue or q-tips? Why not? I don’t get it.” I threw my hands up in frustration, looking around the circle for someone who would want to share my sandwich with me. No one?
“Glue’s not meant to be eatin’! You could die!” A cacophony of voices rose from all around.
“Well, what on earth is it for?” I sighed dramatically, determined to find answers.
“For…sticking things together!”
I put my hands on my hips, my mouth still slightly agape with brow furrowed. “And how do you know that? I mean, I certainly didn’t teach you guys that just now. Gosh, you people seem to know so many things.”
The kids began catching on. This was a game. Their eyes twinkled with mischief as they shouted: “Someone taught us when we were younger!”
“Ohhh. Someone taught you at some point in your life that glue is not meant for bread?”
Everyone in unison, exasperated: “Yes!”
“And you mean you haven’t, like, forgotten?”
Dozens of voices crescendoed: “No!”
“Because, I mean, you probably learned it for the first time like a long, long time ago. Or was it just last Tuesday?”
“It was a long time ago! But we haven’t forgotten!”
“And, you mean you’ve put into practice this knowledge of glue-is-for-sticking-things-together-and-not-for-eating ever since then with positive results?”
Everyone at once: “Yes!”
I sat back, resting slightly against the cinderblock wall behind me. “Ahhh. I see. You learned.”
I let my statement hang in the air a few moments. A few eyes lit up. They were getting it.
We continued onward.
Socks on my hands. Skirt on my head. Household appliances wrapped in sticky laminate paper. ‘Drinking’ my bottle of water by pouring it on my knee. Trying to open a pillow with my keys.
“Gosh, I just – ah, excuse me. This dang cellphone of mine just keeps on buzzing. I mean, I just… I just can’t stand this phone. Everyone’s always calling me. I think I’m gonna just go ahead and turn it off so I can get a bit of peace and quiet for once.”
Everyone’s eyes were trained on me as I grabbed the little black cellphone that looked exactly like my own (no ‘Smart’ cellphone by any stretch of the imagination) and threw it violently on the ground at my feet before emphatically stamping it under my heel repeatedly, my sandaled feet crushing the small device before I picked it up quite calmly and broke it completely in two, my tone of voice remaining utterly even: “Whew. I’m so glad I turned my cellphone off.”
Several mouths gaped open, as they were convinced I had, in fact, completely destroyed my actual cellphone. (What they didn’t know is that it was an old cellphone that no longer worked.) No she’s really gone overboard.
“That’s not how you turn off a cellphone! You completely ruined it! To turn it off you’ve just gotta press the little button!” Many students were seriously worried.
My mouth dropped open in shock. “What? What do you mean that’s not how you turn a cellphone off? How dare you say that?”
Everyone in unison: “Someone taught us!”
“Oh, you mean a family member or friend taught you once that that’s not how you turn a cellphone off, and since then you’ve actually been able to remember that information?”
“But…surely you were taught that valuable piece of information long ago, right? Or was it like last Thursday? I mean, it’s hard to remember things from like two or three days ago, right?”
“They taught us a long time ago, but we haven’t forgotten!”
I sat back again, impressed by their ability to remember important information. “Lookie there. And, putting into practice this information has been useful to you in daily life, or have you daily tried to destroy your cellphone as I just did?”
Everybody laughed as mental lightbulbs began doing off. Ah. There’s a lot of things we’ve learned – maybe we were only taught once, maybe even by mere observation – and that knowledge has stuck with us. What’s more, we’ve relied on that information to make daily decisions about how to live, what’s important to us, how to lead a successful life. Why, then, are we so easily content with saying we’ve ‘forgotten’ a lesson on the truth that we’ve learned but two days ago (or ten minutes ago)? Is this not a grave problem that must be confronted?
Is this not one of the Satan’s invisible strongholds in our lives — that we have become a people ready and able to learn anything and everything — how to operate complicated technology, how to drive a car (or bicycle, motorcycle, plane!), how to store countless trivia and academic information in our minds — yet we fail to learn the truth, are slow to grasp what can actually save us? We are experts in the details of life that, in the end, have zero effect on our relationship with our Creator. Begin talking to us about eternal matters — about life and death, sin and justice, truth and lie — and people’s minds shut off. Sure; I read the entire manual for my new SmartPhone or tablet and can now adeptly maneuver every button, every screen, every app with perfect execution and confidence, but what was that again that so-and-so shared with me — or that I read personally, that I’ve heard dozens of times over and over again in different ways! — about the truth, about a loving God who goes beyond this world, who holds the keys to death and Hell? I don’t remember.
Holding the destroyed cellphone in my hands, I continued, “I’ve gotta ask. If someone lives ‘forgetting’ all they are taught, failing to put into practice what they know – pouring glue on sandwiches and destroying cellphones in a misguided attempt to turn them off – what kind of life is that?”
A short silence engulfed the room as everyone thought about the question. After a couple moments, a soft voice from across the circle said, “…a chaotic life.”
“A chaotic life!” My finger enthusiastically pointed at the person with the prize answer.
They’re with me. I dared onward into the real territory, the actual lesson of the morning. “And a life that is spent receiving God’s Word in one ear and letting it fall right out the other, a life that never actually puts into practice what God’s Word teaches?” I continued, putting it into the specific context of the lesson we had been learning for several weeks – “A life spent ‘forgetting’ to rejoice in the Lord always, a life spent rather complaining, gossiping, and murmuring, never content? A life spent refusing to embrace the goodness of God, ‘forgetting’ to give thanks in all occasions and never experiencing the joy found in Christ? What kind of life would that be?”
Two or three youth answered together as I believe many others, too, found the answer silently in their minds: “…A chaotic life.”
I bent forward, my voice even, serious. “We musn’t forget. Just as in daily life we cannot afford to forget that 2+2 is four – or have to learn it over and over again every day for years – we cannot forget that we are all in need of a Savior. Even as we’ve just become angry with another person, Jesus says we’re no different than a murderer. Just as we cannot afford to ‘forget’ that a toothbrush is for teeth and not for brushing our hair, even moreso – infinitely more so! – we absolutely cannot forget every Word of truth, every word of hope, of eternal instruction that we have been learning here together twice a week for this entire year.”
I continued, “So many people see the simple act of ‘forgetting’ what we’ve learned about God as an innocent act of negligence, but the Psalms say that those who ‘forget’ about God are wicked. Can you think why?”
Someone from across the room spoke: “Because…apart from union with Christ, we’re all wicked. So…if we forget the One who saves us from our wickedness — who grants us His own justice, then we’re right back in the same boat with the wicked.”
Another teen spoke up, “If we forget God, then…we’re back in the group with Adam and Eve. Without Christ’s power over sin and death. Satan wins.”
“Yes! And so, kids, every Tuesday and Thursday that we meet here — and every other time that you go to church with your family or are exposed to God’s Word in other contexts — I do not want you to lazily shrug and say that you ‘forgot’ what it is we’re learning together. This is serious business. I want to be able to run into you guys in town in 20 or 40 years and be able to talk about things we’ve learned together this year. This is so absolutely important. We cannot forget. Forgetting the truth is the equivalent of rejecting the truth – never putting it into practice – and living a life of chaos, a life that doesn’t make sense, a life that is full of suffering and, in the end, leads to destruction.”
Serious, listening faces stared back at me. We had gone from a hoot-and-holler cellphone-destroying riot to touching the heart of God’s desire for us – to remember Him in all that we do, to heed His Word and put into practice every single one of His teachings so that we would not be like the foolish man who built his house on the sand.
May our Father empower us to remember every word He has spoken to us, and may He defend us against the thief who desires only to steal, kill and destroy the truth that has been planted in us!
Amen! Glory to God!