Thanks to my parents, I had a high reading level for my age in school, but replicating those words in the spelling and grammar portion of school never came as easily to me. I made B’s and A’s, but excelled more in history or science. I poke at myself for going to “public school in Kentucky” but I am thankful for numerous good teachers, and don’t mean to belittle them; instead, I only mean to admit my imperfections and mix humility with humor. I know that I have made a few spelling errors that have embarrassed me over the years. Even recently, I accidentally wrote that one of our Elders, Tom Lewis, would still serve as he “exists” past his time on the board, instead of the intended, “exits.” I meant to affirm that he would still be ministering in a different way, but a few church members quickly e-mailed me to let me know they were thankful that people were allowed to live after serving on our Elder Council. That one doesn’t make the top of my embarrassing list, though.
There is one spelling test that I’ll never forget. Our second-grade teacher gave us bonus words to spell that were well above our reading level. Thanksgiving was approaching, and she challenged us with the word “cornucopia.” I’ve always had a stubborn streak, and there was something about the way she made it a challenge that ignited a drive in me. To the best of my memory, I can’t recall normally getting the challenge words, or really trying to, but this time, I was determined.
The test day came — Friday, of course. I had prepared since the last week, and I had done my best to memorize “cornucopia,” a word that I had to look up how to spell now, some 30 years later. She instructed us to clear our desks of everything but one sheet of lined paper and our pencil. She called out the words, and we wrote them down, spelling them by memory. I hesitated on a common word. How did you spell “of?” Again? I moved on, as she had a quick pace. The test was finished when I triumphantly wrote “cornucopia” as one of the bonus words. She graded the tests quickly, as we had moved on to some other assignment, and worked quietly.
Soon it was time to hand back our tests, and the teacher interrupted our quiet work. She congratulated us on a job well done. Then she looked at me, and asked, “Sam, how did you get “cornucopia” right and “of” wrong?” The class laughed as my cheeks reddened. “How do you spell of?” I asked. “It’s okay,” the teacher hushed the class, “it’s more common a word than you think to misspell, it’s because you probably focused on studying the other words, didn’t you?” I confirmed. I was embarrassed to have spelled “of” “u-v.” I wasn’t the only one to do so, but I was the only who spelled “of” wrong, and got “cornucopia” right.
I was reminded that the basics matter. I can’t say I always remembered that lesson well, but when a similar scenario crops up, one where most people would think, “I knew better than that,” I instantly picture that spelling test. Even though I got a hard word correct, my accomplishment was overshadowed by an easily preventable error on something more basic.
Getting the basics right matters in our walk with God. Even people who have impressive-looking accomplishments on the outside may get the most fundamental things wrong. Matthew 7:21-23 records,
““Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (NASB 95)
While we continue to pursue depth in truth by digging into Scripture, it’s also important to get regular checkups on the basics. Who do we think Jesus is? Do our actions show that? Are we reading our Bibles, praying regularly, serving others, and sharing truths about God?