Our youngest son is five-years-old.
And like many kids his age, he has trouble pronouncing certain sounds… Like “R.”
Which is especially sad, because his name is Harvey.
The other night, Harvey was telling me how he was excited about showing his class how he is learning to juggle. He has two stuffed animal lambs and he throws one up high while trading the other in his hands. It’s cute—he has his tongue sticking out the whole time for concentration.
So I suggested that he make a little show out of his performance and say something like, “My name’s Harvey… And today, I’m going to show you how I juggle two lambs.” Instantly, as I said that to him, he hid his face in his pillow and began to weep.
Alarmed, I was like “What’s the problem bud?” It took him a while to choke it out and it just about broke my heart when he cried, “I can’t say my own name!”
It’s sort of true. He can’t pronounce the “R” sound (which is one of the haRdest sounds in the English language). He says “Hawh-vey,” sort of like a New York accent. It’s cute. A couple of our other kids dealt with that. One had to go to thERapy to correct it.
But someone (probably a sibling) recently mentioned (er… teased?) him that he couldn’t pronounce his “Rs,” so he got self-conscious about it. So now he was embarrassed that he is unable to pronounce his own name.
He just cried over and over again as he was falling asleep, “I can’t even say my own name.”
Talking to my wife, I admitted that we haven’t been encouraging him in his pronunciation much because, well, he’s our youngest and we like to keep him little. Maybe if you’re a parent you know what I mean. I would just think, “Well, it’s just so cute!”
I comforted him in prayer for God to open his mouth to be able to say all the sounds right and I committed to help him over the next couple of weeks learn to properly say the “R” sound or we’d look for extra help like his sister had.
Harvey’s tears though got me thinking about my role as pastor and how my job, in part, is to help people learn how to find their voice and to be able to speak the name of Christ boldly, confidently and, yes, correctly.
In many church communities, discipleship is often an overlooked process. It can feel as if the pastor—maybe even unintentionally—likes to keep the congregation immature so they can be the sole voice of wisdom and biblical understanding.
I know of many great churches that are positioned so well to encourage new believers and to never make other feel uncomfortable if they don’t know the Bible well or understand the basics of faith—and I applaud that and I believe that’s a part of our culture as well…
but something we can go so far with making people feel comfortable in their immaturity that we neglect how vital it is for the church to encourage people to find their own voice in being able to live and share the Story of grace.
The entire run of the epistles (the New Testament letters written to the churches) is encouragement to maturity in the faith through wisdom, discipleship and mission. As a church, we need to help people learn to confidently and correctly speak of God’s truth and grace in a world that filled with confusing speech.
We need to learn to say our name. “I am Simon Guevara and I am a follower of God’s only Son, my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ… Do you want to know him?”
“Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends, each by name.” (3 John 1:15)