This past weekend, I had the opportunity to visit a L’Arche home in DC for a night. L’Arche homes are located all around the world, and they are intentional, faith-based communities where adults with and without intellectual disabilities choose to live side by side. I visited the Euclid house, which was home to three men with disabilities. In the short time that I was able to interact with them, I was struck by the different ways that the three men communicated. Sunny, one of the men, was not very talkative for much of the time, but then at one point, he brought out a collage of pictures, and he was eager to tell me about the stories behind the pictures. Other times, he preferred to remain silent. Andrew communicated in a much different way. Rather than talking, he used his own version of sign language—a mix between American Sign Language and some of his own unique signs. Moe was the most talkative of the three. He had a great sense of humor, and responded well to friendly jokes.
Seeing the different ways that these three men communicated made me think about how I communicate with others. I think that sometimes we tend to communicate with others in the way that we know best. We convey our thoughts in a way that we are most familiar and comfortable with rather than considering and adapting to the way that others communicate. Everybody shares their thoughts and feelings differently, and in order to truly connect to another person, we have to do two things. First, we have to learn how that person communicates so that we may fully listen and understand what that person is telling us. Then, we have to consider how we will convey what we are thinking to that person in a way that they will understand most clearly. This means that we will have to spend some time learning about that person and understanding what is on their heart, and how they show it. In order to truly speak to others, we must listen first. Only then can we communicate what is on our hearts in a way that they can understand us.
The assistants who had been living at the home for a while had spent time learning what Andrew’s signs meant, and then they could use those signs to talk to him. They communicated with Andrew in his own language. How often do we try to talk to others in our own language, rather than taking the time to learn their language, and use it to speak to them? Our language is made up of what we value, what we relate to, what we respond to, and what we care about. When we speak to others in their own language, that’s when they will actually hear and understand us.
When we think about the ways that God communicates with us, I think we sometimes tend to believe that He speaks to us in some cryptic language that we must decipher. But I think this couldn’t be farther from the truth—God speaks to speaks to each of us in our own unique language, a language that may not make sense to anyone else, but one that we understand fully in our own hearts. God knows what speaks to us the most, and He uses those things to talk to us!
God knows us well. He knows what we love, what brings us joy, and what strikes a chord with us. He knows how to talk to us in a way that we will listen. That’s why God often uses imagery involving the ocean as part of the language that He uses when He speaks to me. I have always loved the ocean, and I always experience a special kind of joy and excitement when I’m by the water. I can hear God communicating to me through the stories in the Bible that include the sea, and when I pray, I sometimes picture Jesus and I walking along the shoreline. In my daily life, once in a while I will catch little references to the ocean, in a homily, or maybe in the words of a friend or family member, and I know that God is saying something to me. That’s because God knows me, and He understands what speaks to my heart. God knows your language. How is He speaking to you?