My son, Jason is deep into his preparations for finals as he edges toward the end of his senior year. As of this writing, testing for his College Algebra, Health, Renaissance History, and Anatomy & Physiology is behind him. British Literature and Sign Language 3 will be completed next Tuesday and we’ll be calling his high school career a wrap, leaving only one student attending the Woodall Homeschool Academy.
One of the perks of my 20+ year career as parent/teacher/guidance counselor/bus driver/lunch lady while homeschooling my four children is that it’s given me the opportunity to relearn some of the things that I had forgotten from MY time of doing homework and taking tests, but more interestingly I’ve also had the chance to discover a lot of things that I was never taught at all.
Take, for example, American Sign language (ASL). When I was in school, the only options to fulfill the foreign language requirement were French and Spanish. I’m sure in other areas of the country Italian, German or even Japanese would have been equally available, but ASL wasn’t even an option back then. But that changed in 2014 and now it’s included on the list of accepted languages which cleared the way for high school students to learn this elegant form of communication as a part of their college prep work. Since our homeschool co-op began offering classes a few years ago, ASL has been the perfect choice for my kinetic son. And, like basically every other class they take, the homeschool teacher (me) has had the opportunity to learn it as well, and discover what a beautiful language it really is.
Yesterday, I was busy in the kitchen when Jason asked me to help him prep for his exam and I assumed that I could do two things at once. But chopping vegetables, putting ingredients together, and trying to comprehend what he was signing just didn’t work very well. With my attention on what was in front of me, I couldn’t see the signs he was using, and he couldn’t read my motions either. I finally had to set dinner aside, and turn myself completely toward him before we could actually understand each other…
… and in the process, I learned more about talking with God than I did about sign language.
I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. Ps. 119:15
Since ASL is a visual language, it’s virtually impossible (at least for a novice like me) to grasp context and meaning of what’s being said while trying do other things. Same is true in your relationship with God. If you want to discern what the Lord is saying, it requires that you put away disruptions. You may have discovered that it’s hard to zero in on anyone or anything with a preoccupied mind. It’s exponentially harder to hear God with the noise of the world buzzing in your head. While you can pray at any time (even in the most chaotic situation), if you truly want to comprehend the ‘still, small voice’ of the Lord, try turning off the television, logging out of social media, and silencing your phone. You might be surprised just how much you will hear when you prioritize Him and move everything else out of the way.
Orient Yourself Correctly
They turned their backs to me and not their faces; though I taught them again and again, they would not listen… Jer 32:33
To begin a conversation in ASL, you need to face toward the person you want to sign to and make eye contact. While you can’t see God with your eyes, you can situate yourself in proximity to Him by directing your attention to the Word of God. Since He’s already spoken clearly about His will in the pages of the Bible, you should always start there. Don’t be concerned about whether you will grasp the meaning of every verse you read (there are plenty of passages that are plain and simple), rather be diligent in applying what you do understand. Remember what Jesus said about the relationship between obeying His Word and knowing His heart. “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”(John 14:21) As you “seek His face” in this way, being careful to apply His general instructions, you’ll also find it much easier to discover the more specific things He wants you to do.
Pay attention to subtleties
Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard… Hebrews 2:1
ASL is full of nuances. Small directional changes in hand motions, facial expressions, eye gaze, and the force with which you make the signs can make a big difference in meaning. A relationship with God is full of nuances too. Sometimes His messages come in highly visible and unmistakable ways, like through visions and miracles (which do still occur today), but more often He uses ordinary avenues which requires that we pay attention carefully. Every day circumstances, the counsel of a trusted friend, and of course, Bible reading and prayer are His more refined methods of communication. In addition, He may choose to speak through the natural world, music or literature, and even through the voice of your enemies. Many of His methods aren’t flashy like hearing a voice from a burning bush (Ex. 3) or being struck blind while traveling on a business trip (Acts 9), so we have to learn to intentionally look for His subtle movements in places that we might not expect them to be. While He can, when necessary, use more dramatic means, His goal is for us to be so deeply aware of His movements that we can wordlessly discern Him say “this is the way walk in it.” (Is. 30:21)