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Teaching…Without Words

Teaching…Without Words

I love to teach God’s Word. It’s something that I’ve been doing forever. In the past, I would teach to the elderly in nursing homes. I would teach to groups of women gathered in living rooms. I would teach in the churches or through my writings. I would teach God’s Word to people on trains or standing in elevators when they would see a Bible or religious book in my hand and start asking questions. If there was a way to weave a mini Bible lesson into anything, I’d find it and do it.

Several years ago, my iron levels hit the basement, and I could barely function, let alone teach. I became so weak that I had to spend much time in bed. It took an entire year for my ferritin levels to return to normal. But while I was being treated, I had to pull back on a lot of my activities, which for me, was devastating, especially when it came to writing.

In sheer desperation, I scribbled off a note to the abbess of a Poor Clare Monastery in New Mexico (where I live) and asked her and the nuns to pray for me. I explained to her that my anemia was making it impossible for me to teach God’s Word. “To not be able to teach God’s Word is to not be able to breathe, and I don’t know how I’m going to get through this.”

This wise woman wrote back to me one week later assuring me of the prayers of the nuns. But in her letter, she also wrote as follows:

“Even when you are not teaching in a formal setting, your witness still speaks of Christ, Who proclaimed the Father’s love most profoundly when He was suffering upon the cross, hardly able to speak. So we are confident He will use your love right now to touch many hearts and draw them to Himself.”

This beautiful Poor Clare nun was reminding me that we are always teaching, whether we can do so with words or not. Christ hung from the cross in unspeakable agony, unable to speak. There was no book in His hand. There was no podium or microphone before Him. There was no chalkboard behind Him. And yet, in that moment He taught us about the depth of our own sin, the necessity of its eradication, and the extent of the Father’s desire to be reconciled with His creation.

St. Francis of Assisi is reported to have said, “Preach the Gospel always. If necessary, use words.”

St. Peter, our first beloved pope, taught the same principle in his first epistle when he instructed Christian wives as follows: “Wives, accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the Word, they may be won over without words by your conduct, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” [1 Peter 3:1-2]

As a homeschooler, it is very easy to become locked into a mentality that believes that one is only teaching one’s children when one is doing so out of a book or scribbling things on a blackboard. But the abbess of the Poor Clare monastery, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Peter have all reminded me that teaching is something that takes place all of the time, without books and without words.

We teach through our actions. We teach through our conduct and behavior. We teach through the choices we make, whether right or wrong. People are always watching us and learning from us, whether we use words or not, and this goes for our children as well. Remember the old saying, “Actions speak louder than words?”

I’m trying to be more alert to the lessons that I teach my children without words because when I lose this vigilance, I end up teaching lessons that would have been better untaught. If I spend several hours a day preparing lessons for my children and then lose my focus as soon as the books are closed and “school is out,” I inevitably will end up teaching the wrong lessons. We must beware of what we teach when our guard is down.

There is no such thing as a perfect parent. There is no such thing as a parent who has never stumbled, sinned, or “taught a wrong lesson” because of wrong actions. People who believe otherwise are only fooling themselves, for the rest of us know better. But this doesn’t mean that we should not make an effort to exercise greater vigilance when it comes to the things we teach, whether through word, action, or inaction. Most of life’s lessons that I remember are those that came to me without words. I don’t remember much of what my history teacher taught me, but I do remember the time when he opened up his wallet and gave me money for lunch because he had heard that my father was out of work.

On that note, I will sign off. It is time for the day to begin. It is time for me to teach many lessons, a few which will contain words… and many that will not.

About Lorraine Espenhain

Born in Philadelphia, PA, Lorraine now lives in New Mexico. She is a wife, homeschooling mother, religious instructor, and freelance writer with 200+ articles on Catholic.net. She also has her own children’s column at Agua Viva, her diocesan newspaper. Meet Lorraine
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