Friday, October 2, 2009

How Do You Find a Word in the Dictionary If You Can't Spell It?

A few days ago, a friend asked me if I knew the correct spelling of a particular word. I said yes, turned to my computer, phonetically typed the word and clicked spell check when the red wavy line appeared. I hit the change button and spelled the word for my friend as I read it from my screen. Before word processors and spell check, people used a book called a dictionary when they needed the correct spelling or definition of a word.

When I was a child, I remember asking my mother how to spell certain words. Her immediate response was, “Go look it up in the dictionary.”

Now this was disconcerting to me because I knew that she knew how to spell these words. It would have been faster and much easier if she had just answered the question I asked by spelling the word for me.

I’d whine to her, “How am I supposed to look it up if I don’t know how to spell it?” Because, let’s face it, you really have to know how to spell a word to find it in an alphabetical listing!

She’d answered, “Sound it out. What’s the first letter? What letter sounds like it comes next?” I’d answer and then she would say, “Okay then. Start there and go look it up.”

I’d, of course, storm off to my room, pull my dictionary off my bookshelf and half-heartedly look through a few pages and then march back downstairs and announce in a frustrated tone, “It’s not in here!”

She’d take the dictionary from my hand, rifle through some of the pages, and then guide her finger down the list of words on a page. When she found the word in question, she’d close the book, hand it back to me and say, “Yes it is. Try again.”

Often, I would have to start at the beginning of a letter section and work my way through hundreds of words to find my word. Sometimes, I had to look through the whole section several times because I’d miss it the first time. I should note here that my mother was right – the word I was looking for was always in there – I just had to search until I found it. As I look back on this experience now, I realize how much I learned in the process. I didn’t just find the spelling of the particular word I was looking for. The spelling of words I knew was reinforced and I learned new words every time I worked through the familiar alphabetical listing. Perhaps this experience also kindled my passion for writing. It at least gave me the tools I needed to not only pursue my passion, but to communicate with the world around me. The time spent as a child with my dictionary has also helped instill in me a drive and the confidence to work through those little challenges I encounter each day.

Okay. This is where I compare my childhood experience with my mother and the dictionary to my faith life. Let me just first say that I’ve reached a point in my Christian walk where I’ve read the Bible enough that often, it’s a little too familiar to keep my attention. Yet if I needed to find a particular scripture, it’s not familiar enough for me to be able to locate it in a reasonable amount of time. I’d rather turn to some one who knows God’s Word better, let them give me the answer I seek, and be done with it. As a result, I’ve let my regular reading time become sporadic and too often, I find myself half-heartedly reading to fulfill some imaginary quota instead of searching for what God is saying to me in those familiar words. This is a challenge I’ve been facing for a while now.

My experience is that God hardly ever gives me the easy answer. He guides me to work through the challenge at hand and usually, it includes going to a book – the Bible! What I know from my experience with the dictionary is that if I keep searching for a particular verse, or story, or concept in the Bible until I find it – I will find it. And in that search, I will find much more. I will become familiar with what I read through on my way to what I’m looking for. It is in the search for God’s wisdom in his Word that my passion for God’s presence in my life is kindled. The tools to interact with the world around me are contained in its pages. Also, as with any endeavor, the more I work at it, the more confident I will become in the process and the better equipped I will be to face life’s challenges. So tonight, I’m going to sit down with my Bible and read. Not because I should, but because I really need to if I’m to be prepared for the challenges of tomorrow.
About the pictures:
Pittsburgh Zoo (June 2009)

3 comments:

leafmonster said...

That was pretty cold of your mother to find the word in the dictionary, and then close the dictionary! But your childhood question is a good one, because looking up a word in the dictionary in order to find out how to spell it is indeed a Catch-22.

More later...

Green Grandma said...

You have such a gift for taking the common experiences in life and connecting them to your spiritual journey. Computers make life a bit too easy on us, don't they? Whether it's discovering the correct spelling of a word or looking up a Scripture verse, we don't have to try quite so hard anymore. So, is that good...or bad?

leafmonster said...

Commenting now on your last two paragraphs: I believe that God honors the search and struggle with the scriptures. Often, I have gone looking for the quick, easy answers, and been disappointed. When I take the time to really delve into it, as you described, then I find new revelations.

That's why I can't understand it when people say the Bible is a set of instructions. Well, there are some guidelines in there, but one must examine, read below the surface, and struggle with the text.