“Let’s go sit in front of the mirror. Look at my mouth. See how my tongue looks? You try. Good. Let’s try again.
Not quite. Let’s try again.
That’s it. Now, look at how I say ‘n’. Make sure you’re looking. Great. Now you try.”
This was a segment of a speech therapy session one of my students was receiving the other day. I sat in with him to gain some insight into how to help him speak better. Not just how to sound better, but how to actually form the sounds and words with his tongue, lips, and breath.
Speaking is an embodied act. It goes beyond theory, although there is certainly a need for it. However, it wouldn’t do much good to fill my 5 year old student with concepts of how to speak. He doesn’t need information for its own sake; he needs formation. Literally, his mouth, lungs, and a host of other muscle groups and organs must sync in order for correct English speech to come forth.
Within the kingdom of speech therapy, there is a correct manner by which progress is made. And, in this particular instance, it comes by attending to the Queen of the Speech Therapy Kingdom. She knows the why and how of staying within the parameters of the good life found within her kingdom.
The beauty of this particular session was her process of recording this progress. She took my student to a large mirror and demonstrated to him by example the proper way of obtaining an “n”. Every attempt he made, he received either a smiley face or a sad face to indicate whether it both sounded correctly and was properly formed physically. There was not a preconceived set of correct responses he had to attain. He simply had to act upon her instruction and make the attempt. What she was looking for was trust and obedience in listening to her words and watching her mouth. She didn’t leave him on his own; she didn’t set him up for pressured achievement. There wasn’t a “you must get 6 out of 10 correct” for us to continue. It was a “try your best and know I am with you” exercise. It was a “let’s get this down and then we’ll build from here” activity. Every attempt – whether it was done correctly or not – was an opportunity for learning and growth.
I couldn’t help sitting there and seeing a synonymous method by which we learn to live like Jesus. He doesn’t ask us to perform without seeing him do it first. He shows us by example and beckons us to follow. He doesn’t set us up for performance anxiety; he gently invites us to trust him and to try our best knowing he is with us. When we get things wrong, we don’t lose his guidance. No, he challenges us to pick ourselves up, stop doing it that way and try again. And again. And again. There is no giving up found in Jesus. He asks for our obedience to his loving voice as he forms us in his own image.
Akin to speech therapy, learning this Jesus-life comes from doing. Growth takes place as we actually embody what it is he is saying to us. It does us no good knowing the teachings of Jesus devoid of practicing the teachings of Jesus. Discipleship to Jesus is certainly a spiritual thing, but it only comes at the employment of the physical.
This is what Jesus means when he offers us this abundant life. He is the one who knows how to live in the kingdom of God. His relationships between himself and God, himself and his fellow human beings, and himself and his created order are exemplified by justice and rightness. That is, they are how they are supposed to be. And it is to this that he calls. Just like the “Queen of the Speech Therapy Kingdom” can teach the proper sound and formation of an “n”, so Jesus is the King of the Kingdom of God and can teach the proper way of life abundant.
And he does it again. And again. And again.