by Bronwyn Lea
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space.
Imagine two small heads bent in concentration over a game, not responding to their mother’s repeated calls for their attention. Imagine me, so frustrated I almost had steam coming out my ears. The children are oblivious. It’s a scene which has played out many times in many ways over many years.
“How many times do I have to tell you….?”
“I’m not going to say this again!”
“I’m only going to say this once…”
One of the most exhausting things about training young people has been the constant feeling that I need to repeat myself. Saying the same things—like “say please”, or “no whining”, or “close the door behind you”—again and again makes me feel like a robot at best, and a terrible complaining curmudgeon at worst. In fact, I got so tired of asking my children not to whine when they spoke to me that we developed a special hand signal (three middle fingers raised on one hand in the shape of a “W”, because W for “Whining”) as a short hand cue that I would only answer them when they spoke to me in a normal tone of voice.
But perhaps the worst thing about repeating myself is the feeling that I’m failing. Surely if I were a more effective parent or coach, my children (or work team) would be more responsive? There’s a nagging voice in my head that tells me that I should only have to say things once (or hear things once!) before appropriate action should follow. And so, repeating things feels like failure. And disrespect.
In truth, only hearing ‘once’ and expecting things to stick is not a realistic or fair expectation. It is profoundly human to need things repeated to us. Modern science tells us we need to hear new things 30 times to actively commit them to memory, or to taste a new food 10-15 times before we become used to it. “Lather, rinse, repeat” wasn’t something that was introduced by the shampoo industry… it’s actually the way humans have always needed to go about life: with rhythm and repetition.
Reading Deuteronomy shows that God our Father and Maker knew about our capacity to forget thousands of years before we had any scientists researching “neural networks”. God built daily, weekly and annual ‘reminders’ into Israel’s heartbeat, knowing that we need regular reminding of things.
The Israelites needed reminders to love God every time they walked into their home, and were to remind their children of the same day in and day out (Deuteronomy 6:5-9). They were to gather at regular festivals and feasts to hear the law being read (Deuteronomy 31:10), and—because we all know how a catchy tune can stick in our brain—some truths were to be put into song form and taught to the Israelites so they’d remember it even better (Deuteronomy 32:44-47). God said it and then he said it again (and repeated it once more): Remember. Remember. Don’t Forget.
The reason God repeats, repeats, repeats himself is that he wants us to remember, remember, remember. He knows we are hard of hearing, slow to learn, and quick to forget. We quickly forget his commands, and we also quickly forget his promises.
It struck me recently that when Daniel was praying on behalf of Israel, confessing their sins in tears, that the Lord assured Daniel three times of how much he loves him in reply. “You are very precious to God,” he says in Daniel 9:23, and again in 10:11 and 10:19: “You are highly esteemed. You are deeply loved.” Daniel needed repeated, deep assurance for it to stick.
And think of Jesus, tenderly instructing Peter after he had betrayed and disappointed him so badly: “Peter, if you love me, feed my sheep. Feed my sheep. Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17). Yes, Jesus could have said it just once, but Jesus repeated himself because he knew, in love, that we are people who need repetition.
I see a beautiful humility in Peter who, having learned this gentle lesson from Jesus himself, writes his own reminders to the church in the last days of his life: “So, I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body…” (2 Peter 1:12-13)
And so, taking a deep breath, I turn to my children who need reminding again, as I remember that I am one who needs reminding again and again herself. And I’ll say it again (and again) - not because I’m actively failing, but because I’m loving -
I love you. Remember what I said? Let’s listen and obey.
And soon, I’ll say it again.
Bronwyn Lea is a mom, pastor, editor at Propel Women, and author of Beyond Awkward Side Hugs: Living as Christian brothers and sisters in a Sex-Crazed World. Connect with her on Facebook or Instagram.