Language learning and I have a rocky past together.
In high school I took Spanish, because there really weren’t a lot of options in Nash county, NC. I can still recite the alphabet quite well, but all else is long forgotten.
In Community College I attempted French, because it’s supposed to be romantic. Alas, that venture ended when I responded to my French teacher in Spanish one morning. (Why are language classes always in the morning?!)
At Emmanuel College, I tried my hand at Greek, because I was going to be a good biblical scholar who could read and understand an earlier text than King Jimmy’s version of what went down. I gave that one up to have a social life and so my best friends wouldn’t kill me. Sorry God.
I swore off languages for forever, and then I moved to Ukraine. But it was okay because I worked for an English ministry and attended an English speaking church. Really not a lot of incentive there for the linguistically challenged.
However, my last year in country I tackled the Russian language head on. My teacher understood me and went out of her way to help me wrap my head around the complexities. She also scolded me for my constant lack of speaking because I desired perfection. Again and again and again and again she chided me because I was afraid to mess up.
Oh, God, how that applies to so many areas of my life.
Therein lies the heart of my problem with linguistics, I’m afraid to mess up. And if you’re learning a language it is simply inevitable. I mess up the English language daily and I’ve been speaking that one my whole verbally communicating life.
So really, it’s pretty ridiculous to try to learn (anything) without failing.
I was actually starting to enjoy Russian when life took an unexpected turn and I found myself back on American soil indefinitely. And y’all I do not have the discipline to tackle language learning alone.
Now, I’m heading back to Ukraine. This time, however, I’m in a different city and a different church and my role will be different, and all those things include a different language. So because God has a grand sense of humor, I now need to know Ukrainian.
And because I’ve spent the last six years praying for a miraculous gift of speaking and understanding both Russian and Ukrainian and that miracle has sadly not transpired, last week I started Ukrainian language lessons.
Within five minutes I had read off something perfectly… in Russian. My teacher laughed. I laughed. In fact, in our two Skype lessons so far there has been a lot of laughter, because one of the letters that shows up everywhere my mouth just has a hard time forming.
And I’ve decided that maybe laughter is the best way to go about it this time around. I’m going to mess it up.
The language isn’t all I’m going to mess up in Ukraine and in life. I’m certain I’ll get a LOT more things wrong along the way,
Because life is a lot like trying to learn a foreign language, and perfection is completely unrealistic.
When I demand perfection of myself, I hate whatever it is that I’m trying to do. It becomes this unconquerable obstacle in my way, and I’m NEVER good enough. I end up full of fear and shame and regret and all the yuck, because I’m placing something on myself that nobody else is even expecting.
I know those who feel like they could never go to God until x, y, and z have been taken care of, until they’ve made their messes look presentable, or until they think they could stick with Him and walk it all out perfectly. But thankfully He doesn’t require that, or none of us would have a chance.
But it does require vulnerability. Language learning requires it and so does relationships and life, if you’re going to do it well.
It means admitting that maybe I don’t have it as all together as I want you to believe. That maybe I need help. It means admitting that I’m probably going to mess up again and probably this week and probably the same thing I just said I wouldn’t mess up again, because even though I understand there’s a difference, I still can’t seem to implement it yet.
Through it all, I’m really thankful for grace and for laughter.
And I apologize in advance to all my Ukrainian speaking friends.