Rite of Passage: The singular ‘we’
Some of you will have a hard time accepting this, but my worst subject in school was English. In college, I had to take freshman English twice because I did so poorly the first time around. So what does God call me to do? Write. God uses our weaknesses to bring Himself glory. Since I have many, He gets the glory in almost everything I do.
When I began my study of English, it didn’t seem too hard. I did fairly well on nouns and verbs. Then the teacher began to throw in a few adverbs and adjectives. To make it really confusing, she taught about participles and how some of them were caught dangling. But in all my studies of the English language, not once did a teacher mention the singular form of “we.” I had to learn this part of speech from my wife and children.
Let me explain how the singular “we” is different from the plural. For example, “We had a good time visiting our children this summer.” When you read this sentence, you assume that “we” means more than one person, and you are correct. I could have written, “My wife and I had a good time visiting our children this summer.”
Now, let’s look at the singular “we.” This week, my wife told me, “We need to paint the bathroom.” You might think the “we” in this sentence means Cathy and I plan to paint the bathroom together, but you would be wrong. After 35 years of marriage, I have learned to distinguish between the two forms of “we”—something no one teaches in school. My wife used the singular “we” because she meant “You need to paint the bathroom.”
In spite of my difficulties in English, I have become quite skilled at recognizing her use of this pronoun. She might say, “We need to change the oil in the car,” “We need to mow the lawn,” or “Don’t forget, we need to get some milk tonight for breakfast.” Each phrase represents the singular “we” except the last one, which is a combination of the plural and singular uses. Yes, she and I both need milk for our cereal, but I’m the one who needs to pick it up on my way home from work.
Unlike their father, my children immediately caught on to the singular use of “we.” I realized this when they said things like “Dad, we need to go to the mall.” There are two main problems with the structure of this sentence. The first is the use of the plural “we.” Dad doesn’t need to go to the mall. You might think he does, but Dad can count on one hand the number of times he woke up in the morning and said, “I need to go to the mall.” Besides, if I lay my head back on the pillow for a few extra minutes, that thought goes away. Obviously, Dad doesn’t need to go to the mall.
Second, you don’t need to go to the mall, either. One of the reasons Dad pays for Internet is so you can order stuff online, and he doesn’t have to take you to the mall. End of discussion . . . until my wife comes along and says, “We need to take Junior to the mall.” At this point, “we” has switched from the plural back to the singular, and I need to take our son to the mall . . . now.
But isn’t that what family is all about? A family begins when a couple decides God has called two to become one. Marriage changes two individuals from “me” to “we.” Have you noticed? When you have children, the only time they belong to just one parent is when they do something stupid or wrong. That’s the only time one or the other spouse says, “Look at your children!”
As the years go by, “we” expands from the married couple to the children to grand- and great-grandchildren. One day, “We went to a family reunion” will encompass many more than just the two of you.
I am not a great theologian, but I understand that the members of the Holy Trinity always work in conjunction with one another. They understand the singular/plural “we” concept better than anyone else. In creation, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit worked together to create . . . everything.
Even today, the Holy Trinity continues to work in our lives. God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). This means when my wife uses the singular “we” and says, “We need to mow the lawn,” I am not going to do it alone . . . after all.
Walker Moore is president of AweStar Ministries in Tulsa, P.O. Box 470265, Tulsa 74147, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 800/AWESTAR (293-7827.