As a Spanish teacher, I spend a significant amount of my work days thinking or dealing with grammar issues. In the particular curriculum I have to follow, students spend their very first semester of beginner Spanish in the present tense. They talk about their daily routines, their habitual activities, what they are doing, their likes and dislikes. For an entire 15 week period, students´ only concern in class is literally the here and now. I have to say that students do get a good feel for the present tense. And normally, that’s the tense they feel most comfortable with and remember the best after they have studied for a while. It’s their safe place and they never want to leave it.
It´s funny to see their reaction when they go to their second semester and have to start dealing with past tense. They go through different stages in this learning process.
First, they react in in disbelief: “What do you mean I have to use different forms of the same verb to talk about what I did last night?”
Second, they become really confused: “What is this? What??? How am I supposed to know how to say ‘I ate’ in Spanish?
Third, they want to give up in frustration: “This is impossible! Who can ever learn this stuff” (only they often insert expletives to make their language more colorful).
Fourth, they begin to accept it is a different language: “Ok…how does this work again?”
Fifth, they start using the new forms in a coherent way: “I get it. If I want to say ‘I ate a pizza last night’ I have to say ‘comí una pizza anoche’…”
The thing is that just when they think they’ve got it…I have to introduce other forms of speaking in the past, plus the future tense and a bunch of other tenses that completely throw them into a tail spin. After they are done with the third semester of beginner Spanish, they want to run so far away from the language that I never get to see them again until years later I see them at their jobs and then, they tell me how they wished they had stuck with Spanish because it would have really helped them in life…but that’s another subject…
All the stages, however, are necessary in order for them to really learn. If they don’t wrestle and reject in their confusion and frustration they never truly understand that it takes a change in their mind-set or perspective to acquire a different language.
Today, I was thinking about this process as I consider my relationship with Christ, particularly the issue of how God’s timing is not my timing neither His ways are my ways. What I realize is that God also has a different grammar. God is trying to teach me how living life from the perspective of a follower of Christ is not a static process that most certainly requires a change in of mid-set. As we mature and walk longer with Jesus in this valley of shadows and pain, we go through the different stages of learning. We think that life with Christ is going really well and feel really comfortable, then something happens that throw us off balance and we can’t believe it! “Why is this happening to me?” Then, we go through confusion: “How do I go on now?” Of course we often just want to give up: “There is NO way I can do this!” After much wrestling, we begin to accept that it is what it is: “God, you are in control. I surrender to the wisdom of Your designs.” Finally, hopefully, one day we retake the path alongside Christ stronger and more confident of His presence and guidance through the rough patches.
Another thing I realized was that there is something very different between my students and I…something I need to emulate: the fact that they understand that the present tense is a safe place and that if it were up to them, they’d never leave it. Unlike what I do in the classroom trying to help students move through all tenses to master them, God’s grammar encourages us to stay in the present tense.
He doesn’t want us to live in the past:
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43: 18-19
"In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps." --Proverbs 16:9
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." --Philippians 4:6-7
The past is fixed and we can’t change it, but neither should we let it enslave us. The future is unknown, sometimes exciting but often just plain scary…so we should just trust. That’s why the best place for us to be is in today, with our eyes fixed on Christ not on the future or the past. Though He is not bound by the constraints of time He meets us in the present tense. He is the Great I AM…present…here and now…and that’s precisely where we need to stay.
Next time I witness my students’ reluctance to move onto other tenses outside the present, I will think of this reflection and hopefully use it as a reminder of where my focus needs to be.