I grew up with the old-school Berenstain Bears books, the ones where Mama Bear was always warning Papa Bear against riding his bike along the edge of a crumbling cliff, but he’d do it anyway, and then say to Brother and Sister Bear: “This is what you should not do. Now, let this be a lesson to you.”
Amy asked me write about language learning, an area in which I feel spectacularly unsuccessful. Since my life, like Papa Bear’s, appears destined to be a cautionary tale, let me tell you about a few things that went wrong for me in language learning.
I was panicking all the time because I couldn’t get it right, and feeling like a total idiot (after all, small children spoke this language). When you freak out, your brain shuts down, so my brain was trying to work past that shut-down, as well as trying to retain information. Perfectionism made language learning a million times harder than it had to be.
My husband, Andy, made quick progress in language-learning. While that was nice for him, I just felt stupider and stupider. We’ve talked about this a lot since then, and we’ve realized that for Andy, he pretty much exchanged one job for another. In America, he went to work and came home and ate dinner and got up and did it again. In the Solomons, it was the same pattern for him, only the work was a lot more fun, interesting, and adventurous. Meanwhile, for me…
- Life happened
We lived in a remote village for months at a time. I was trying to figure out how to do life under very primitive circumstances. I had two pre-schoolers who had been through multiple transitions. I got pregnant during our first village stay, puked my guts out for months on end, then went back to the village with a newborn and an additional role: homeschooling my now-kindergartener and pre-kindergartener. (Anybody who’s homeschooled knows that you can’t teach just one. They all want in on the fun.)
Looking back, I wish I had been less perfectionistic, but I wasn’t. I wish I had been more aware of our entrenched roles and how we might have changed them, but I wasn’t. I wish life had been easier, but it wasn’t. I wish I could say that things eventually settled down and I learned the language anyway, but I didn’t.
After three years, Andy took on a different role and we moved away from the village, back to the capital town where the trade language (which I had already learned) was widely used.
I’ve always been disappointed in myself for my failure in language learning, but here’s a thing I just realized while I was writing.
When I’m asked about language-learning, this story of failure is what comes to my mind.
But you know what? Before we ever moved to the village, I had learned the trade language, very successfully.
Of course, that was in a classroom with a teacher while my children were being cared for by a babysitter and somebody else cooked dinner and washed my clothes. So maybe the village experience wasn’t just me, being incompetent. Maybe the village experience was a bunch of stuff, none of it particularly conducive to the acquisition of language.
I don’t know what life would have been like if I’d succeeded in language learning, but here’s what happened when I failed: the translation project got done even though all I did was fix lunches for the translators. The New Testament was well-received, without me being able to say much more than “Hello,” “That is a very big pig,” and “Yes, I’m going to the beach to swim.” Literacy projects are still underway, and I had nothing whatsoever to do with them.
The truth is, my ego wishes it were otherwise. My ego wishes I could sit here and tell you how marvelous I truly was.
Instead, it wasn’t about me, not very much at all.
The other day, Anne Lamott said in her Facebook status that she heard this very clear word from the Lord in church recently: “It’s okay.”
And that is the word I need so many, many times. I start to worry if I’m doing everything right, I look around at everybody else who’s doing so much better, my life goes absolutely crazy at the drop of a hat—and God is right there, saying, “It’s okay.”
He’s got this. When I don’t.
Breathe, breathe, breathe.
Where have you been hearing “It’s okay” these days?
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