“You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty. You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.” (Ps 18:27-28 NIV)
I wanted to impress my dad and circumstances had given me the opportunity to do so. I was in grade 9 at the Koninklijk Atheneum High School in my hometown in Belgium. Because French is the second official language in Belgium and Oostende is on the Dutch side, French had always been a required course at this particular High School. For the first time in its history however, I was being allowed to choose between French and English as my second language course!
To my dad, the English language was everything. As a young man during World War II, he had lived in occupied Belgium where he often had to flee the Gestapo in order to avoid being transported to the work camps in Germany. When D-day finally arrived and the US and Canadian troops entered Belgium, my dad was always proud to say that he was the first one to climb up on the first tank in line and ride it into his hometown.
His fascination with North America turned into an obsession after this, and his lifelong dream became to visit the United States, and possibly to even live in this land of plenty.
Knowing how he loved the English language, I took it upon myself to choose English as my second language course. I could just imagine how proud my dad would be on the day I could converse with him in English!
What a disappointment when my envisioned glorious outcome ended in disaster. Although my dad tried to help me with my homework (translating Dutch to English and English to Dutch), my English language skills soon fell far behind those of my seven classmates. By the end of my first school year, I had an “F” in English! What an embarrassment!
To make matters worse, my English teacher told me clearly that I was not cut out to learn foreign languages and that I would “never be able to speak English!”
I’m not sure what devastated me the most, the grade (I was an “A” student otherwise), or the teacher’s ominous declaration, but I took private English classes during the summer so that I could retake the final exam in September. I passed this time. Barely. But my grades in English for the remainder of my high school years didn’t improve much beyond a “D”. My teacher was so right. I wasn’t cut out for languages!
As a result, I soon gave up my dream of making my dad proud by speaking English. I decided to attend seminary instead. Although my relationship with God was far from ideal, I wanted to know more about Him, and I chose a seminary in France, one that was close to Geneva, Switzerland.
While there, I became acquainted with many young people from North America. They were attending the language school associated with this particular seminary, and they were quite obviously homesick. I decided to befriend them, and before I knew it, the impossible happened. In just a few months I could carry on a conversation in basic English.
Towards the end of that school year, a High School official approached me to ask if I would be willing to tutor a student who was weak in English. She needed to pass her BEPC (a mandatory grade 10 state exam in France, necessary for continuing with High School studies), and she was failing. I had no idea how to help her, but since there was no one else available, I accepted the offer. The challenge was that we had only two months to get ready for the state exam, and she certainly was weak in the language! There was no way she would be ready to pass that test in just two months!
I could identify with her completely however, because I had walked in her shoes. I did my best to help her, and this, combined with lots of prayer, was what it took. We were both ecstatic when she received her BEPC results and she had passed!
When I least expected it, God gave me a gift. I had given up all hope of ever impressing anyone with my English skills, but God took what was outside of my control, what was beyond any of my hopes and dreams, and turned it into a strength. I can definitely identify with the apostle Paul: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:10 NIV)
As long as we try to be the ones in control of our lives, we will never truly be peaceful or satisfied, and we will usually be faced with failure. When we are full with ourselves, heartache will swallow us, but when we humbly submit and depend on God’s guidance, we will find ourselves blessed.
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” (Matt 5:3 The Message)
Let’s learn from our mistakes. Let’s take ourselves out of the driver’s seat and let God be in control. After all, it makes lots of sense! Why should we trust someone with 20, 30 or even 70 years of experience over Someone who has lived for eternity and is all powerful?
May our prayer be like that of John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30 NASU)
Do any of you, by chance, need help with your English?
(To access the entire “My Lord and Master” devotional series, please click here.)