Saturday, June 06, 2009

Form without Substance

I heard recently the idea that when it comes to developing our children spiritually, we can give them form, but not substance. In other words, we can create an environment for them in which they learn about God through us and others, but we cannot fill them with faith. We can't make them believe. Only through God's spirit can there be substance. I can teach them to apologize, but only God can give them a repentant heart. I can teach them to memorize verses, but only God can make those verses come alive in their hearts and guide their living. Comprende?

This post is actually not about parenting at all. I just use that illustration because yesterday it struck me that my Chinese skills are often "form without substance." I can grammatically form a correct sentence (well, at least to speak as well as a small child - but I can't figure out that darn "ba" construction!) but I often don't have the key verbs and nouns I need to fill in the sentence. I once read on the cover of a book, "This is the most _______ book in the world." I thought, "That is the most useless sentence ever to me! It's the most WHAT book? It could be anything." All because of my lack of substance.

So when I was at the nursery, trying to communicate to the girl that I needed a great deal of soil to fill in a large fish pond, I could say, "I have a large ________ in my garden. I need to fill it with _____." Since that wouldn't make sense, I had to say, "I have a thing in my yard that used to have fish. And now I want to put flowers in it, so I need the stuff to put in it." Since then I have learned how to say "soil." Very important.

I'm thankful for the form, and I know that the substance will come over time as the felt need is strong. This morning on my walk I was mentally making a list of words I need to learn quickly, "Can, liter, glue, plant." What makes this different than my illustration is that the Holy Spirit unfortunately is not going to come fill me with Chinese words. For that I'm on my own.

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