It was my first visit to this new museum, and I liked what I saw from the start, actual little rooms set up just like they would have been in eras long ago. I could actually walk into them and through them. I didn’t have to peak through glass and read a bunch of signs. I could try to imagine what it might have been like to live back then and survive on the minimal implements and entertainment these settings provided.
“Feel free to touch anything you’d like, unless there’s a sign that says do not touch,” came an accented voice from someone behind me I hadn’t even realized was there. I did not yet know that this would be my quirky but exuberant tour guide, popping up on me throughout my visit over and over again.
“Oh, ok. Thank you,” I said as I looked back at him quickly and then back to the artifacts. I didn’t have much time to spare on this last-minute field trip I decided to afford myself on my way home from work one day.
He wasn’t done though. “Like this hammer here,” he said as he picked it up, not even handling it with museum-like care. He jolted my anxiety level instantly. “If you pick it up you can feel how heavy it is and how much of a work out you would have gotten using one of these. People didn’t need gyms back in these days.” He said with an adorable English accent.
I took the hammer from him, how could I resist such excited encouragement? “Yes, I see. Thank you,” I replied as I carefully waved it a bit and then put it back down. I was nervous holding onto such an important relic and didn’t want to risk breaking anything. The thought made me even more anxious.
“You’re very welcome. Just let me know if you have any questions.” He offered as he backed away, just in case I had any immediate questions that would prompt him to step back toward me.
But I didn’t ask any questions. I finished perusing this first room and crossed over to the other side of the hallway to a new room, avoiding my exuberant tour guide who was now in the next room of that same side helping another guest. I enjoyed a few moments of uninterrupted perusing until suddenly he was back again, somehow even more excited to tell me about the items in this room. He quickly remarked on one item and then the next, picking things up and handing them to me, forcing me to take an interest. Then he completely lost himself and jumped ahead to the next room, asking how I liked a furniture piece in it. “I haven’t even been in that room yet.” I answered. “I’m still in this room,” can’t you see? I did not add this thought out loud.
“Oh yes, of course, I’ve gone and gotten ahead of you. I’m sorry,” he apologized, again backing away just in case I came up with a question, which he surely did not want to miss. “I’m so sorry. Please take your time.”
That bought me time to finish this room and the next without any interruptions whatsoever. Now I crossed back over to the first side, into a blacksmith’s shop. I’m sure you’ve already guessed it. Yep, he was back, wondering if I knew what the cow bells were for. Well, since I live in cow country, of course, I answered proudly, “They wear those around their necks in case they wander off.”
Exuberant’s eyes grew humungous behind his circular wire-rimmed glasses. “What did you say?” he asked in obvious astonishment.
I knew that my answer was nowhere near brilliant. Why is he so excited? I wondered as I decided whether or not to stay or leave. Well, I had to find out the answer first before I took off, plus I don’t like to be rude. “I said in case the cows wander off.”
“Oh, of course, yes, yes, that’s correct,” he deflated as he answered, but still showed spirit behind his glasses as he explained what he thought he had heard. “I thought you said in case they bugger off. You see, that’s an English expression, and I was quite sure that you’re not English. You have a very American accent. I was just excited that you might use one of our English phrases.”
I could see the humor here and laughed with him, as I began to continue to the next room. My visit continued with Exuberant popping in and out, even around corners. He seemed to portal himself into my presence every time. I was disappointed that I did not make it through the entire museum as I received a phone call and had to leave.
But I have to say, I will surely return. Exuberant’s mannerisms actually enhanced my visit and certainly gave it a comic flair. I even want to bring my kids back to experience the excitement of this character who seems to be from a storybook and not someone you could actually meet any day in this museum.
It wasn’t until I had some time to reflect on this most interesting character that I made some correlations to the way I guide people through my Christian faith. Am I the exuberant tour guide as I teach the Bible to teens on Sunday mornings? How about when I’m helping a friend through a struggle? Is it good or bad to exude so much excitement? These questions and what if’s were fun to ravel through my brain.
What if I come off as a disconnected know-it-all, not even realizing that no one is interested in what I’m saying? Well, what about the opposite approach? I don’t want to be dull and boring either. And I also don’t want to wait until teens come to me asking for Bible knowledge. I’m quite sure they’d choose to continue playing video games and chilling on the couches if I gave them a choice. I’ve learned that if someone doesn’t want to hear my teaching or of my faith, I can watch for verbal or non-verbal cues that say loud and clear, “bugger offer!” I’ve also learned that it’s better to do just that instead of forcing an unwanted exchange. I’ve come a long way since my early Christian life in my approach to sharing my faith and my love of the Bible, but I admit I still have a long way to go. It’s the attempts, the successes and failures that guide me to grow and improve.
I don’t have to guess at these answers anyway. One of my favorite “exuberants” of the entire Bible is the apostle Paul. He’d put any excitable character to the challenge of sharing his faith and passion any more powerfully. He taught and preached for days in a row, and year after year, throughout the days and nights, shedding tears as he expressed his passion behind his teachings, his passion sparked by his unforgettable meeting with Jesus. He couldn’t bare to say goodbye to his newly made friends, and preached into the night, not losing energy while his audience fell asleep! He even continued his relationships and teachings after he’d left and moved on through writing letters, some of the most famous and exuberant letters of all time.
I think I’ve learned that even more important than our approach in teaching, is our expectations of others as we teach and guide. I’m a very process-focused person, and I used to think that my process was the only right and correct way to grow. I’m so thankful to my pastor who taught me that it’s not fair to hold any two people to the same pace of learning Biblical growth, or for any two people to learn steps of growth in the exact same order. This simple yet not obvious-to-me lesson was huge in allowing me to free those around me to grow at the rate and order in which God has ordained for them, not Donna’s rate. Looking back at my museum visit, Exuberant was indeed comfortable allowing me to view the rooms out of order, and this space made me more comfortable. I’ve regrettably watched people in the past and fretted when they did not grow according to the same path I had.
Guiding teens or friends, or anyone for that matter, through the “rooms” of the Bible as we read the stories can be like visiting a museum. Can I try to help them get an idea of what it might be like for them to live in those times and actually experience God, whether through the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament, or through Jesus and the apostles of the New Testament? Yes, I can try this. Can I be excited about it, even exuberant and over-the-top? Yes, certainly this is ok. What I want to remind myself of though, is not to expect anyone I teach or love on through God’s Word to grow instantly or in such a way as I predetermine.
In this space, my listener is free to hear and process and grow through God’s leading. And then hopefully they will desire to come back and peruse through more “rooms,” more books of the Bible, meeting more Bible characters, and allowing this incredible book and the Author of it to come alive and breathe new life into them as they meander through the tour, that is through life.