This is Holy Week. In our house, that means that we listen to dramatic readings of each of the Gospels from the Last Supper to the Resurrection. This week is also Unit 7 of fourth grade math. In our house, that means we are learning a lot of new mathematical terms. Words like parallel and intersecting and vertex...and perpendicular. Sweet E, my fourth grader, is a word girl. She has had a large vocabulary since she was very young, and since she is an avid reader, her vocabulary is always growing. New words and their definitions are easy for her to master. So, as we tackle this new math unit, we go about learning these new mathematical terms. I show her what it means for two things to be parallel. Then, I have her represent that pictorially. Finally, we talk about it in an abstract way, only using words to represent what we have formerly done with physical objects or pictures. And, it is a piece of cake for her. Sweet E answers every question I ask correctly and she can mimic all the strategies I have shown her for drawing parallel and perpendicular lines. Thinking she is ready to work on her own, I assign her some exercises out of her book and send her off to do them.
She comes back with her work finished pretty quickly, but as soon as I look at it I know something is wrong. All of her parallel lines are perfect. She very definitely understands that concept. Some of her perpendicular lines are...not so perpendicular. Lines are intersecting other lines at widely varying angles. I take a deep breath and ask her to give me the definition of perpendicular lines. “Two lines are perpendicular if their point of intersection creates right angles,” she responds. In my head, I sigh in relief. Ok, good. She does understand what we have spent the last few days working on. But, why all the incorrect drawings then? I ask her to point to all the perpendicular lines on her page. She points to every set of lines that intersect, whether they are perpendicular or not. I ask for the definition again. She gives me the same correct definition. I ask her to point to the perpendicular lines again, and again she points to lines that are nothing like the definition she just gave me. We go through this a couple more times. I keep hoping she will hear the definition she is giving and see how it doesn’t fit with what she did. She doesn’t get it, though, and I finally give in and show her why the lines are not perpendicular.
Later that day, I was relating this story to my husband. “I cannot believe that she could say the right words over and over, but not actually DO the right thing on paper!” I complained. “She had the head knowledge, but it was like she couldn’t really internalize what she knew so she could use it.” And, as I said those words out loud, I realized that my daughter is no different than I am. But, with me, it is the Gospel. I hear it spoken to me often. I go to a church whose pastor delivers wonderful messages that keep me captivated and wanting to know more about Jesus. I read it often. I study the Word almost every day, and the days I’m not reading the Word, I am reading about it. I talk about the Gospel, too, on an almost daily basis. I talk about it with my children, my husband, my closest friends. We discuss how it changes us, how it moves us, how it works on our hearts. And yet...there are so many times that I am just like Sweet E. The things I am saying just don’t fit with what I am doing. I get it in my head...I understand what the Gospel means...I can even proclaim it when asked... But, there are many times when I can apply Jesus’s message in real life, and I don’t do it. It’s like I haven’t really internalized it yet. I haven’t moved it from my head to my heart. Like the song says, “He isn’t finished with me yet.”
So, as we move through the next few days, remembering the Last Supper, mourning Jesus’s excruciating death, and then celebrating the amazing resurrection, my prayer is that I will remain focused. I want to really think and know and learn what all of these things mean, so that I can truly know what the Gospel means. But, this year I don’t want to stop there. I don’t want to just know it...I want to live it.