My friends have the cutest kids. All of them seem to be perpetual toddlers. Does that stage last for 10 years or something? Maybe it’s just me, but I have the hardest time understanding what these cute little guys are trying to tell me. They come up to me, tug on my pant leg, say something like: “wah goh doh lah de mamy.” I’ve perfected the enthusiastic expression, combined with the nodding head and the “uh huh” that usually satisfies them. However, sometimes, they seem to want more of a response from me. That’s when I have to turn to mom, with that, “Help, I don’t speak ‘toddler'” expression.
What gets me every time is that mom always knows what the kid is saying. She’ll turn to me and say, “Oh, little Timmy just wants to know if you’ve ever had a tarantula on your face before.” A little light bulb will flash on over my head, and I’ll finally understand the wild gesticulations the kid was making with all its limbs flailing and pointing at my face. How was I supposed to know that he was trying to ask if I’d had an arachnid protruding from my head?
How do moms do that? They can be in another room, and I’ll ask them what their kid just said, and they’ll give me a full sentence or two description of the precise meaning of the kid’s statement. Not only will they interpret what the kid said, they often know what the kid is trying to say, before the kid knows it. Sometimes, the kid doesn’t know the right words, or it’s naptime/cranky time and he’s confused. The kid can be whining incomprehensively, and the mom can come in and say, “Oh, do you want this slimy shredded blanket that you insist on sleeping with?” And the kid will have an “aha” moment, and all will be well. Mom figured out what they were trying to say, even though they didn’t know it themselves.
I need some of those “mom powers” to use in my teaching. I have far less success translating basic English to my college students. When I’m lecturing about something in class, more often than I’d care to admit, I’m met with vacant stares, as if I’m speaking a different language. Sure, I teach English classes, but as far as they’re concerned, on some days, I might as well be teaching Advanced Swahili.
I know I don’t sound like a toddler in front of class, but there’s at least one time in my life that I sound like one. A lot of my prayers end up awfully messy. Especially if I’m upset and sniffling and crying, my prayers to God sound less like Mary’s Magnificat and more like the grown ups on Peanuts cartoons (“wah, wah, wah”). Often, I don’t know what I’m saying, but I’m upset, and I just want to talk to God about it. It goes a lot like this, “God, *sniff, sniff*, I don’t know what’s wrong, it’s just this and this and this, and nothing is making it any better, and I don’t know how to fix it, and I don’t know what I really want, and those shopping carts…, and I’m in a terrible mood *sniff sniff*, and everybody is annoying me, and all my students are looking at me with vacant stares…” You get the picture. Who can make any sense of that?
Here’s my question. How does God hear us? Is he sitting up in Heaven, listening to my prayers, like my undergraduate students going, “Huh, she is making absolutely no sense today.” Or, is he more like the mom, who can read through the toddler speak and get right to the heart of the matter? Of course, God is more like the mom. He knows our hearts better than anybody else. He knows our thoughts, even before we start saying stupid, confusing, awkward things.
I’m so thankful for the Holy Spirit. He can cut through our confused minds and words and get to the core message that we’re trying to convey: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will” (Romans 8:26-27). So regardless of whether we can preach eloquent sermons or pray with excellent grammar, God understands.
Like the good mom who knows what her child is saying, God always knows what our hearts are speaking.