Life among the pagodas
I love to communicate. (Perhaps you’ve noted that, as I write here more frequently than Jim.) One of my weaknesses is that I am sometimes impatient to communicate. I like to be understood, and if I’ve been misunderstood, I yearn to make myself clear, as soon as possible. Part of that is just an old fashioned affinity for the facts, but the uglier side of it is my own impatience; wanting to make myself known and understood, regardless of whether the other person is ready.
I got a nasty cause of food poisoning five days after arriving in Yangon. It was about seven days until both ends of my digestive system were set to rights, and not until today (16 days since the advent of my bowel troubles) that I have fully regained my stamina. Being sick and in bed all day made me aware of my need for more patience. I wanted to try more food, keep biking around the city with Jim, and prepare to set up our home. I especially wanted to start studying Burmese, but every trip to the bathroom knocked me out for hours on end, so I had no choice but to rest in bed.
All that time in bed gave me some time to think about language learning, even if I couldn’t yet study. I thought about how much an infant I am in this place, how I’d like to pass up the toddler stage as soon as possible, what kind of study schedule I should have, the ways I engaged in new relationships in North America, and how that should shape my expectations for friendships here…on and on. (Food poisoning apparently affords much food for thought while it is robbing the digestive tract.)
Mostly, I was struck with the genius of God’s plan for sending his people to faraway lands, how having to learn a whole new tongue is such a brilliant plan for teaching a lousy messenger to be a good messenger, how there is no better way to learn the power of words than by having that power removed. How careless, insensitive, and destructive I’d be if I could simply sweep in here and use my words and powers of persuasion on the people around me. If God is love, and love is patient, then what better way for me to learn to bear his image than through the humbling patience of learning to talk all over again? If I am not willing to be patient in this process, how will I be ready for the hard work of cross cultural relationships, and loving the people around me?
Language learning makes me think of Isaiah 41:3:
“I am the Lord your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says, ‘do not fear, I will help you.’”
How provocative is it, that in order to receive help from God, I’ll first have to surrender my source of greatest defense and skill: my dominant hand? Language and the ability to communicate is certainly my “right hand.” I love the English language; Scrabble is a game of choice for me; telling grandiose stories is a favorite pastime; I started falling for Jim when he used the word “surly” on me, and we’ve shared a love of words ever since.
Now it’s time to start all over again in a new place. And while I’m at it, I’ll be learning more and more the nuances of that greater tongue, the one all God’s children learn together, the language of God’s gracious, truthful, and patient character: water to thirsty, sojourning hearts such as yours and mine.