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“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35 (NIV)
The smell of warm butter and freshly baked bread wafted through the window, beckoning me into the quaint French bakery. A timid bell chimed my entry. Behind a case glistening with fruit tarts, the shop owner glanced up at me and smiled.
“Bonjour, mademoiselle,” he said courteously.
“Bonjour, monsieur!” I answered in my best French.
His eyebrows lifted. “Oh! You are American, non?”
I forced a smile and nodded. Betrayed again.
He immediately slipped into English, and we spoke for several minutes as I made my purchases. I thanked him with a warm “merci.” His English “good bye” echoed in my mind all the way back to my apartment, where I slumped into a chair in dismay.
After 10 years of dedicated study and almost a full year living in central France, I still didn’t blend into French society. I couldn’t even pronounce a simple greeting without being identified as a foreigner! My accent had betrayed me again, and I was tired of standing out.
That afternoon, I confessed my disappointment to a French friend. Secretly, I was hoping she would tell me my accent wasn’t so bad.
Her response surprised me.
“You do have a bit of an accent, Katie,” she admitted, “but I think it’s charming.”
“It’s not charming, it’s frustrating!” I fumed. “I’ll never blend in here!”
“Maybe that’s a good thing,” she countered. “Your accent marks you as a foreigner, yes. But you are still here, in my country, speaking my language. That means you cared enough about my people to cross an entire ocean to live among us. That makes you charming, and it makes me want to learn more about where you came from, too. Don’t be ashamed of it.”
I was staggered. I had always considered my accent to be an inconvenience, not an inspiration. Could it really be true that my accent wasn’t alienating, but inviting?
That evening, I returned to my tiny apartment and flipped open my Bible. My reading plan for the day took me to the book of John, Chapter 13. In this passage, Jesus is partaking in His final meal with His disciples before the crucifixion. As He faces His imminent death, He shares these powerful words, and today’s key verse: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
In light of my friend’s remarks, I began to see this passage with a new perspective. I realized that the love Jesus speaks of here isn’t a one-time action; it’s a lifelong “accent.”
Just as our native accent influences every word we speak, love influenced everything Jesus did.
He left His home in heaven to come live among us. He lived a life of service and compassion to all members of society. And His love for us ultimately sent Him to a cross, becoming the invitation that welcomes us back to the family of God.
When we follow Jesus, we are called to love the same way. When we do, our love — our Christian “accent” — will set us apart. It will make us stand out on days we wish we could just blend in.
But it may also be the invitation that leads someone back home to the heart of God. And that is nothing to be ashamed of, friends.
So today, let us cherish our accents. Let us love one another as Jesus did.
And may the world know that we are truly His disciples. Allons-y, mes amis! (Let’s go, my friends!)