My acquisition of the Italian language really doesn’t reflect the amazing teacher I had in Florence, Italy, or the excellence of her skills. Like Michaelangelo she chipped away, always confident that deep within me something stunningly amazing would come forth.
I did stun quite often actually, like whenever I opened my mouth. The amazing part was trying to get my foot back out.
She didn’t speak English. I didn’t speak Italian. She was a gifted teacher, brilliant and patient. I came with few references and little ability.
While I ascended into Italian sophistication, still sporting my Little House on the Prairie print dress from Walmart, she introduced me to things like Versace and Gucci.
Her apartment was filled with intriguing treasures. Original art works. Oriental rugs. For my lesson she cleared Venetian glass ornaments and intricate porcelain vases from a gracefully carved wooden table where I deposited my grammar books.
I built an imaginary safe space cubicle around myself and there I’d be careful to stay while I inched off my coat, then carefully slide into her antique chair.
Italian antique and American old is a cultural chasm. They live centuries apart, as in before Columbus set sail different.
I learned to see a glimpse of Italian life from her eyes as I observed this regular routine. I saw quality, beauty and value within an Italian context.
We often began by reading a Bible verse together, me with my halting pronunciation of indecipherable words, and her with her beautiful rolling r’s.
One day our lesson found a much broader mark on my missionary heart than figuring out how to buy beef at the butcher shop.
The love I went to Italy with had developed a thin veneer.
Language didn’t come easily. People thought and acted in ways I didn’t comprehend. Feeling isolated, stupid and inept wasn’t exactly fun and games. I was so over and done with it.
You may be feeling like that about the place you are today.
“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.” 1 Peter 1:22 (NIV)
In her patient way, we attempted conversation revolving around the passage. The process was a painful demonstration of the tower of Babel within an elegant setting.
As she peeled away the etymology of the Italian word “sincere,” it revealed some imperfections. Little had I reckoned with the layers of origin coming together with modern translation to reach within my heart an untutored spot.
“Sincera” in Italian.
The term reflected on ancient merchants who dishonestly covered up their wares with clear wax to hide flaws. Broken, cracked or rough products smoothed and filled looked whole and smooth. But it was pretense. Underneath flawless perfection lay shoddy product.
And there I sat, surrounded by beautiful sculptures and valuable paintings, uncovered by God’s word, hiding under fake wax.
Deep crevices of hypocrisy tarnished my love for those I felt called to serve.
When Peter wrote those words, he addressed the struggles and suffering of a body of believers caught in the crossfires of diverse nationality, race, gender and culture. He pointed them back to the source of pure love and pulled them from pretense. And he challenged them to build upon a foundation of genuine love.
This is a good time in our history to check for wax in the cracks. With long seasons of dry difficult testing, falsity springs with deceitful stealth and cunning.
Past months have worn into our beings. Our lack of accountable fellowship with one another in the body of Christ has made us open to chips and crevices.
But, how much is just wax?
Love with a thin veneer is quite easily passable as the real thing, but very far from it.
“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth”
–Confession is good for the soul, truly. Ask for the Holy Spirit’s conviction for sin. Then ask forgiveness.
–God’s Word is the mirror of our souls. It reveals not just the imperfections, but also real answers, not just the waxy coverups, but Christ’s perfection with which He robes us. It brings hope. Spend time in it.
–Worship. Affirm the character of God. Read His Word back to Him in praise. Sing. Share it.
Jesus’ perfect love calls me from my fixed and fake smile and actions, from a heart full of hidden craters, unkempt and glossy. He knows the real me.
He bids me to care deeply enough to shake off hypocrisy, check up on others and see how they are…honestly.
That we may live out His love. Without wax.