This past week I was reading a book by a friend who had worked in Vietnam for many years. In one chapter she described her experience of learning the Vietnamese language, made more difficult by the six tones that accompany each syllable. Finally, she says, "after we declared it was ‘vomiting’ outside (instead of raining) and that I was giving birth in the guest room (instead of painting it), we learned the biggest lesson of all; to laugh at ourselves and enjoy their amusement – and their happiness that we were making an effort."
I was struck by this line. For years we lived overseas, but my desire to do things perfectly kept me from throwing myself with abandon into language acquisition. I was afraid that people would laught at me, revealing more perhaps about myself than about others. And so I monitored my use of Spanish, rather than turning off my inner critic and humbling myself to become a three-year-old. Even now, my husband takes every opportunity to use his Spanish, but I hold back, not willing to show that I'm not as competent as I think I should be.
It's this difference in attitude between my experience and my friend's that caught me. Jumping in feet first, she discovered that Instead of scorn, there was delight. The good-hearted amusement of her audience sprang from a sincere happiness that she was making an effort, along with a realistic expectation that, like any three-year-old, she would make mistakes. It was this grace and light-hearted acceptance of the process that allowed her to settle back and laugh at her own blunders, confident that they were not met with judgment, but with delight.
What does God require of us to be pleased? Not perfection, certainly, or we would spend our days in under a cloud of displeasure. Rather, it is to make an effort toward the good. It's the seeking to please that pleases God. The writer of yesterday's Psalm (25) was committed to this principle:
Show me your ways, O LORD,
and teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation.
Gracious and upright is the LORD;
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.
He guides the humble in doing right
and teaches his way to the lowly.
God is a gracious teacher. Like the Vietnamese my friend encountered, God does not expect that we will do things perfectly. Full of wisdom and understanding, our loving parent knows our souls and our struggles more than we will ever understand. God knows where we have been, and what we need to unlearn in order to embrace the path of love. But that's not a concern. The desire is for the heart to be turned toward the good, for us to take the next right step, no matter the stumbling in the process.
It was Julian of Norwich who said, "In our eyes we fall, in God's eyes we stand. But God's insight is the greater." As children seeking to follow in our brother Jesus' footsteps, God is happy with us. Will we fall? Of course. But God calls us to share in the delight of the effort, knowing that we are beloved, and in us God is well pleased.