In my mind, learning to converse in Chinese is a lot like learning how to sing. When the Chinese speak, it’s as if their voices have become a taut string, constantly plucked and petted; it’s sharp, commanding, defined. I love it.
Unfortunately, my Chinese doesn’t sound that way.
Perhaps-scratch that- indeed one day I’ll get to that point, but right now I’m currently (re)-slogging through the basics. And what are those, you ask?
Mandarin is a tonal language, meaning each word has a sound- or, tone- that accompanies it and is indicative of meaning. Furthermore, words are represented in characters- what Westerners would consider to be pictures. For said Westerners learning Chinese, there is the phonetic rendering of each character. This quasi-language is called “pinyin,” and assists the speaker in knowing what sounds to make. Finally, there is the meaning of each individual character- oftentimes designated by its accompanied tone- that one must know and understand. For example- “马” or, ma, has a third tone, which means “horse.” “妈”, or, ma, has a first tone, which means mother. Confuse the tones, my friend, and you could end up calling you mother a horse. (This is an oft- repeated cautionary aphorism; it is slightly terrifying in its implication of lost-in-translation disaster. Anway.). It’s these subtleties- not necessarily the grammar that have a propensity to cause headaches.
And metaphorically speaking, I’ve had a lot. I’m struggling. Like, really struggling. As in, getting-grades- I-never-thought-I’d-ever-see- even-though-I’m-working-harder-than-I-ever-have-at-school struggling. It’s such a big humility check. I’m the student. I’m the one who’s always had the knack for school, the one that looked forward to learning. You know how siblings in little kid books always have a primary talent? Like, one was good at soccer, and one could draw lifelike flowers, and one knew how to cook, and the other was a ballerina? And they were all good at everything, but they had one defining characteristic? Well, if you line up my sisters and me, I’m always “the academic one.” This IS NOT to say my other sisters aren’t smart- that’s the furthest thing from the truth- but I’m the one who loves books and the pursuit of knowledge, etc. the most (and anyways, they’re better at sports and art than me). If this digression is confusing you, I’m sorry- I’m just desperately trying to illustrate that academics have been my strength, and that finding myself very ill-equipped in this arena is both disorienting and frustrating.
Sigh. I’m starting to understand why some kids one day just stop coming to class and become graffiti artists instead.
I mean, I get it. There’s absolutely nothing worse than being misunderstood, than being treated like an idiot when your powers of articulation fail you. There’s nothing more disconcerting than working hard, only to see a pittance in results bin and everything thinking (and saying!) that you’re not trying hard enough. When. You. Are.
But Papa’s been showing me lately how I turn to everything-everything-everything else but Him for happiness, fulfillment, encouragement, and comfort, and I guess academic success is absolutely no exception (although I would’ve told you in the past that it was). I am so tempted to throw in the towel sometimes and cry, “OK GOD THIS WAS THE STUPIDEST MISSION OF ALL TIME WHY I AM I HERE I AM USELESS AND AN IDIOT AND BAHHHHHHH.!!!!!>>>>>!!!!!<>>>>>>>>>………”
I can’t. I won’t.
Today I read Mark 5. One of the stories it tells is of a woman with a bleeding problem, whose lengthily illness has left her sicker, weaker, and destitute- but not helpless. This last bit struck me with its subtle yet immense profundity. For a woman who “had suffered a great deal…but instead of getting better she grew worse,” (v. 26) she had every right to become despondent and bitter about her situation. Instead, with determination she continued to seek help.
In this quest for healing, she had lost everything. As I was reading, I was reminded about a sermon I once heard on this story, in which the speaker detailed that not only was her health and fortune gone, but also many years of her life, her reputation, her friends, family, and home (as her condition secured her spot as a social outcast, very much akin to a leper’s. ). Yet all this loss was what brought her to Christ, the ultimate gain.
Lastly, she had immense faith that Jesus was worth something, that He could do crazy miraculous wonderful stuff, the things that He promised He would do.
I feel so much like that woman- “sick” and trying everything to (seemingly) no avail. But as I give up a lot as I try to get to a better place- pride, time, the comfort of being at a place I know and love- I am learning that only Christ will bring me to where I need to go. Only Jesus. Not an incredible grade, an incredible body, nor an incredible set of friends. Not a shopping trip, delicious dinner, funny movie, nor stimulating (and fluent!) conversation, etc. – can sustain and heal and fulfill me like Christ can.
This all crashed down on me in the past couple days, and it was coupled with some other ugly revelations. I, in a state of extreme frustration, was lashing out at my teachers during my classes in the most un-loving way. How dare I pray to be a witness and act the way I was? I may very well be the only Christian my Chinese teachers ever meet and here I was acting like a petulant child. I realized that if I wanted to be like Jesus- and perhaps share with them this love- I needed to exhibit the patience I wasn’t receiving from them, I needed to log off Facebook and prepare more so that through my diligence and improvement they could sense my respect.
It’s hard. I hate being the stupid kid. I hate being nice when it hurts.
Here’s the thing: Jesus called me here. He wants me here; it’s neither for me nor about me. Therefore I will continue to do what He wants me to do- study and work and sweat and learn- trusting, knowing that one day, in the midst of a “harvest of righteousness,” (Heb. 12:11) I’ll look back at this season of discipline as the best thing that ever happened to me. Why? Because God is so good, and so worthy of my trust. He’s not going to bring me to the other side of this big ole world (literally) and, as mom likes to say, “leave me to rot.” He’s not going to bring me here for the express purpose of learning Chinese and allow me to fail. I believe it. I trust Him.
As my pastor said in church this Sunday, “God doesn’t call the equipped, but He equips the people he has called.”
And another nugget that was placed in my path earlier this week- “The mind of the rash will know and understand, and the stammering tongue will be fluent.” Isaiah 32:4
I’ll hold Him to it.