Saturday, October 15, 2011

Show, Don't Just Tell

The Montessori instructor placed her left hand on an open door and her right on the doorknob; she gently twisted it quietly closing the door. She had just told her adult audience that often parents “yell” at a child, “Don’t slam the door!” However, the parent often fails to show the child how to shut a door properly. I sat in that audience over 20 years ago and the gist of her message remains strong in my memory. Showing a child how to accomplish a task produces better results than simply telling a child. The lesson stuck: Show, don’t just tell.

                I participated in a teacher’s workshop, and one teacher wanted her students to “see” the Bible story of Zacchaeus and Jesus acted out. You remember the story, the short in stature and hands-deep-in other’s pockets Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was walking his way, and he quickly climbed a tree so he could see over the crowd and spot Jesus. Jesus knew the location of this wealthy, chief tax collector’s heart and that he was spiritually out-on-a-limb—a limb that would eventually snap unless he changed his cheating ways. Jesus looked up in the branches and said, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:1-10).

                Melody, a Bible schoolteacher asked her husband to dress up as Zacchaeus to help her act out the story. She played the part of Jesus with her Bible times robe and wig and beard. Knowing that her husband, Monty, was resourceful, she didn’t dictate how he dressed for the part. When Zacchaeus entered the room, Melody had difficulty keeping the story from turning into a comedy. Her husband fully carried out the characterization -- long robe, wig, and beard -- and he entered walking on his knees with large soft shoes penned to his jeaned-knees beneath his robe. Zacchaeus was indeed low down to the ground.

                Melody’s class listened to the text of Luke and saw why Zacchaeus needed to climb a tree to see Jesus. Melody demonstrated the message that Jesus’ love can change tall or short thieves. Show and tell worked well.

                  In writing courses, one of the main elements in writing fiction or non-fiction is to “Show, don’t tell.” A story written with action and dialog is more understandable and readable than one where a writer uses only narration and a passive voice. Today’s popular novelist write in this style:  Show, don’t tell.

                If you are a parent, you especially have learned the value of showing a child how to do something instead of simply giving a verbal command. People learn best when there are demonstrations and then opportunities to practice. My husband could tell me to change the oil in my vehicle, but believe me I’d need several lessons before that would even come close to happening correctly.

                God did that for us. He didn’t simply tell us what to do, but he sent a live demonstration in the person of Jesus Christ. He clothed God in flesh, and through divine help, Jesus showed us how to live a just, compassionate, and forgiving life. As I think back over the life of Jesus, I am encouraged to know he constantly patterned perfect behavior for those around him. He touched the sickest among the crowds. He forgave the vilest offenders. He accepted into his presence both the prostitute and political official. He rubbed shoulders with outcasts. In addition, he contributed no slander, no gossip – only truth.

                Many have found the right combination of showing Jesus to others as they gently teach and demonstrate his love through their active involvement in others’ lives. Know-it-all preaching rarely results in the softening of hearts. Recently, I spoke with a young Christian woman, part of a group who has moved into a troubled neighborhood on the East Coast, and she said to me, “We’re not preaching on the street corners. We’re just living among them and showing people a better way of life by loving and helping others like Jesus did.” 

                 Index card verse for week 41: “Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near”                                (Philippians 4:4-5).

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